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In this book, Waterston, an ONDA member and former high desert rancher, writes of a wild, essentially roadless, starkly beautiful part of the American West. When I first noticed it, I assumed it was a fence line. Were those footprints? Did the line of rocks go to the far shore? Why was Terri doing it? How did she get the rocks there? These musings in and of themselves expanded our relationship with the playa whether we set foot on it or not.
A few residents, giving in to their curiosity, walked the Morse code of it as far as it went then turned around and came back; still others kept going to assess the remaining distance to the far shore, which, mirage-like, always remained a mile or so out of reach. I soon found myself running as though afraid, as though I wanted to get it over with, wanted to get to the other shore and then return to the security of the marked trail that had disappeared from view behind me.
The absence of the rocks was somehow unsettling to me. No guide. On my own. Unmarked, uncharted, wild out there in the middle of that vast, inscrutable playa. Maybe a trail is a way of challenging death. Start at the beginning of something, go to the end—and then, instead of stopping dying , step off into an undefined else. What are each of us leaving and going toward? Maybe too much of what we do in life is taken up by trying to find the right trail, to resolve ourselves and our lives into a discernable pattern and direction and always in denial about the fact that the trail, as we perceive it, has an end.
Most of us are happier with a trail than without one. The reassurance of knowing the remaining distance back to home base, of a known trail, makes us brave-ish. Most of us are happier when someone else is with us on that trail rather than all by ourselves. Most of us are happier with mediated wilderness, guided wilderness, the cruise-shipping of wilderness.
The real McCoy requires that we actually know about survival, finding our way, being without contact, being dirty and uncomfortable for more than a few nights, maybe even lost. Maybe the whole point is to get lost from time to time. You map your own way. You swim or sink in the sagebrush ocean. You have the freedom to roam, to call your path your own. She founded the Writing Ranch, which offers workshops and retreats for established and emerging writers, and The Nature of Words, a literary arts nonprofit featuring an annual literary festival in Bend, Oregon, and the Waterston Desert Writing Prize, which recognizes nonfiction work examining the role of deserts in the human narrative.
The recipient of numerous awards, fellowships, grants and residencies, Ellen received an honorary Ph. Last updated on February 1, ONDA has created a of different resources, that can be used in combination, to help you navigate the Oregon Desert Trail route and to safely travel through the high desert.
Walking the High Desert. Karen Withrow. Read an excerpt from the book below. Ellen Waterston, author of Walking the High Desert. Learn More. Trail Resources ONDA has created a of different resources, that can be used in combination, to help you navigate the Oregon Desert Trail route and to safely travel through the high desert.
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