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Lauren Crux

Desert Notes: Sunrise at Font's Point

i stand looking down at a desert that was once underwater four hundred million years ago.  ocean.  i look out over ribbed hills, alluvial plain, alluvial fan, sandstone, tan, grey, red, the ages marked by colour and fossil.  layer upon layer.  camels, mastodons, bone-crushing dogs, saber tooth cats, giant sloths.    
i can imagine myself swimming over the mountains at the bottom of a sea that is no longer here.

the sun is not up.  it is warm. i wear shorts and a t-shirt. two owls, one on each side of me, softly echo each other. canyon wrens are busy in song, soft descending notes, and a crow caws in short coughing bursts throughout a long glide from one side of the canyon to the other. the wind rises. 

i came all this way to record these sounds.     desert sounds.     i borrowed expensive equipment, bought high-end tape, drove for hours. now I camp alone in a desert wash surrounded by thick, wrinkled mud hills the colour and texture of elephant knees. i lie down in a small tent flooded with the austere blue light of an enormous full moon. i listen to the silence of nightfall, and
the shockingly loud sounds of my sleeping bag as I turn seeking comfort.
sleep is intermittant        interrupted by my own wolflike vigilence, by
jagged-edged dreams, by meanings just outside of reach, by footsteps 
imagined: ninja-like. careful. creeping, coming towards me
over the cold desert sand.
i awake before dawn, un-rested but eager , pack up
quickly, drive over soft sand as far as I can go,
unload the gear, hike out to the point, unpack
with care––recorder, microphone, cord, batteries, tape––
only to discover that there is no take-up reel:
his fault (he must have known)?   mine? 
no matter now.

so i improvise. instead of recording, i make sounds of my own.  the sound of the wren as it flashes by, a high pitched whszzh sound, whszzh, whszzh;  the cackling of a crow, caaaawwk, caaaawwk, caaawwk; the quick buzz of a fly, bzzsst;  the wind itself, sheeewheww, whoooo, shewoo

i might be rehearsing a performance––sunrise at font's point––part of the on-going series, crazy artist disturbs the desert, or consider instead: that this woman, looking for herself everywhere she goes, offers this,
only this––
             a thin thread of song, much as a child hopeful yet aware,
             puts a message in a bottle and                        
                         tosses it
                                     out to sea.


Way Out West

One Christmas morning when we still lived in Vancouver, my parents gave me a handsome, felt-covered, roan rocking horse as a present. I was three. I turned around from a game I had been playing with my father and there it was––Such a handsome horse. I climbed on and rode off into cowboy country. Hours, days, weeks––rocking, rocking––the dolls my ever so hopeful mother gave me, languishing untouched.

When I was a little older and too tall for my beloved rocker but still sleeping with my cowboy boots on, guns and tomahawks by my side, our family would vacation at a dude ranch somewhere in British Columbia. I rode real horses and learned to gallop wild into the country and far into my imagination. I was, to quote Gary Snyder, “the bobcat that roams from dream to dream.”

My first eight years were spent in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Lots of tall mountains there, but it’s not The West. The British Canadian west is more contained, more impeccably-attired-Royal-Canadian-Mounted-Police, more Scottish Presbyterian we-can-survive-anything, more status quo, west. It’s a west coast, but not The West. But my West was Rin Tin Tin, Roy Rogers (for some reason I never did take to Gene Autry), The Lone Ranger & Tonto (I didn’t have a clue then about the racial politics reflected in these Hollywood fictions). My west was aspens and cottonwoods fluttering and murmuring in the summer heat; hot rocks and cool breezes coming off the cricks and grasshoppers buzzing all around; huge boulders and arroyos, washes and red-earthed box canyons; coyotes shrieking at a kill and wild horses––free.

Every winter in January, when the weather in Vancouver was miserable and my mother's bursitis acted up and I got my annual case of bronchitis, and both my parents longed for heat, sun, and a good golf game, and my older sister probably wanted to stay home, we'd head to the desert in southern California, to Palm Springs, Palm Desert, back when that area was still desert and open-space as far as you could wander and the air was clear and free of LA smog and the silence was rich and comforting and there were no shopping malls and the water table was not overdrawn. We would rent horses and go riding over the open desert, my father, mother, sister and I. My sister and I used to ride up the center of Indian Avenue and Palm Canyon drive, something impossible now with the congestion of traffic and tourists, but at that time, these roads weren’t even paved.

When at last we moved to Palm Desert, I was eight-and-a-half and Hollywood was only a day’s horseback ride away. Hopalong Cassidy, who rode a white horse and only wore black, except for his white Stetson hat, lived just five houses down from me, in his black and white house, with his very tall wife and her hair bleached white. There were orchards and date palms, secret oases, and plenty of stables with well cared-for horses to ride.

On this desert, I developed a taste for a more rough-edged hero––my favorite––Have Gun Will Travel. (He was still a good guy like Roy, but less polite). My West was vigorous and uncontained. It had horizons everywhere you looked and outlaws and outliers, and men who lit matches against the stubble on their cheeks. (As for the women in these t.v. shows, they were only there to make pies and be rescued.) My West was a world, an imagination; rough and tough; unruly and unshaped.

I had Texas in my blood from my mother’s lineage and it was showing up. I liked black-eyes peas as much as steak.

There are home movies of me with my red cowboy hat, striped t-shirt, jeans and chaps, galloping over desert sands, earnest and happy, big-sky-free in my fantasies. Luckily the movie of me being smacked in the forehead by a tree limb and knocked into a large prickly cactus by a runaway horse, seems to have gone missing. But not even that frightening and painful experience deterred me. I climbed back on and rode into the sunset. I was Jim, the lone cowboy.

I spent a lot of my early childhood being Jim. I was other characters as well, but Jim was my favorite. One afternoon, while still living in Vancouver, my grandfather and I were out walking in a nearby hamlet, and we passed by a camping store that had a hunting knife displayed in its storefront window. I stopped and stared at the knife. A curious sense of longing filled me. I have a faint memory that I had seen the knife in the window before, but had never been able to stop and really look at it, to take it in. I turned to my grandfather and said, "I wish I had a knife like that." He was surprised and asked, "Why?"
"I don’t know. I just like knives," I told him shyly.

That Christmas my grandfather gave me that hunting knife as a present. When I opened the gift box and saw the knife lying there in its caramel-coloured leather sheath, with its polished dark wooden handle waiting for me to grasp it, my heart turned gleeful somersaults. I ran to my grandfather and threw myself into his arms. I knew he didn't get “why,” but he did get that the knife mattered to me in some big way and he trusted that.

As soon as I could later that day, I pulled on my boots, strapped that knife to my side and strode out of the house to walk around –– the city block. I was . . . well, I don’t know who I was. I wasn’t, Jim, my cowboy alter ego; he wore a gun, not a knife. And I wasn’t Tarzan, because that was stupid. But I was somebody who lived in the wild, not just a tent in her back yard. I was someone who needed a hunting knife and knew how to use it. I was real, and not a cute six year old tomboy walking around with a big hunting knife strapped to her side, pretending. And I knew simultaneously that this was not real, that I was not real and that only the knife was real; and I was afraid and ashamed.

I didn’t know I was a child of the West until many years later when I travelled to Nepal. It’s so vertical there, everything up, down . . .  It was only at ten thousand feet when the landscape opened up to a vast plain and a Horizon, that I understood the hemmed in, distressed feeling that had been dogging me for days. I am a child of the West. I need mountains at my back and an expanse in front of me that is marked as much by absence as it is by plenitude. When I sit on the edge of a prairie looking out, or walk in the middle of the desert, the air clear for miles, or stand with my toes right up to the lip of the ocean, gazing so far out I can see the curve of the earth: well, then I can breath.

Notes: p 1     Gary Snyder, from The Practice of the Wild, p 17.

Lauren Crux
Lauren Crux, a dual citizen of the US and Canada (she was born in Canada), loves the West, especially the left/west coast, where she can easily stand with her toes up to the edge the ocean and stare out to sea (see). Her writing and photography has been published in a variety of journals and anthologies. She is also a performance artist and has written and performed five solo shows and participated in numerous group shows performing all over the place. Her personal essay, “On Reading Anne Carson’s Nox,” was recently published in “Poetry Flash,” and her performance monologue, “Dinosaurs & Haircuts,” appeared in “TRIVIA: Voices of Feminism,” and has been made into a limited edition art book. Her day job is the art of psychotherapy. At night she writes. She has an "occasional blog" on creative process, "news 'n notes" on her website:


Spring 2012

John Chandler
Alta Ifland

Shiloh Hellman
Thad Nodine
Patrice Vecchione
Stephen Woodhams

Dane Cervine
Eileen Eccles
Peggy Heinrich

Lauren Crux

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