by Paul Salvette
Copyright 2011 Paul Salvette
Coyotes creep around the valley below looking for varmints to eat. Some close in to get a free lunch from my backpack, but once they see my eyes, away they go scurrying down the slope. I’m looking out from this ridge in Joshua Tree National Park for what seems like an eternity. The mountains are so big they tear holes in the sky, while the valleys in the distance lurk in mystery. Perhaps they contain more coyotes? Perhaps something else? Who the fuck knows.
Long ago, before my first tour to Iraq, I vaguely remember coming here with some Marine buddies from Camp Pendleton and a case of Busch in a duffel bag. The walk is over a mile from where the road ends, and we had to park our car with those stupid Department of Defense stickers they make us put on our windshields so that we can get back onto base. People look at us funny when we have these stickers, and forget about us getting any from the chicks down in San Diego. But out here there’s no one else, and these ridges and valleys don’t seem to care about such bullshit. They’ve been here long before us, and they’ll be here long after us.
These windswept ridges don’t give a fuck that I’m a Marine who was once a troublemaking kid. I actually asked my mother to scatter my ashes here if I ever got killed in Iraq. I don’t remember why I made such a request, since stuff like that makes Mom really nervous, but it seemed like the right thing to do. I could spend forever just listening to the wind whistle through these canyons. But right now I have a drive across the country ahead of me, so I better get going.
Below me is an abandoned goldmine complete with rusted out barrels, corroded carts, and even a track that runs through the tunnels burrowed deep within the ridge. I recall my buddies and I got drunk and ran past the gratings just to see what’s on the other side. We made it about ten feet before the California sun could no longer illuminate the oblivion beyond.
There’s also a National Park plaque on the walk up that marks the spot for some Wild West shoot-out. Apparently two cowboys fought over ownership of the mine right here over a hundred years ago, one gunning down the other. I wonder what they would’ve said if they had known it’d be abandoned for so long. Would it have been worth the spilled blood? I think so. Back then folks actually gave a fuck about something. They didn’t just let things happen to them, and they didn’t believe everything was going to be provided for them like a bunch of pussies.