If I slowed down — if I left the interstate and slowed down — if I were off the interstate riding a motorcycle, or better yet a bicycle — if I were walking along some nearly forgotten footpath, the world would appear different. Some have written the difference is qualitative, that we see the world from an inherently better perspective when we slow down, when we stop to smell the roses. I have been one of those writers. But it occurs to me now that I am painting the broad strokes of the desert in my mind, like the underlying wash that begins a watercolor landscape.
I have hiked through the high desert and driven through it on interstates, state roads, back roads and dirt tracks. I have flown over it dozens of times. At 36,000 feet you see patterns that are impossible to imagine from the ground, no matter the rate of speed. Seated by the window on one such flight, the desert sliding below, I recalled from a hiking trip the sparsely vegetated, rock-strewn sand stretching mile upon mile between ragged stone walls. The merest trickle of water ate the earth. I then understood how the drainage sparse desert rainfall could carve such a fantastic geometry from rock.
Northbound on I-395 I am overtaken by an F-15. Passing on the right just one hundred feet overhead, it hugs the valley floor, banks dramatically once and disappears over the next rise. I am crawling northbound on I-395, nearly stopped at 90 miles an hour. I look again at the pointilistic patches of snow, at the pipe-cleaner arms of the Joshua Trees. It is so much easier to appreciate the fine details of the desert when one takes their time.
The speedometer shows numbers all the way up to 120 which sets me to wondering if a Plymouth Neon with a four cylinder engine can really go that fast.
California, United States of America
Taken during travels, 2009