It’s a surprisingly quick evolution from the grid of the city, to dense and dark fir forests, to sun-dappled pine forests, to wide open high desert when you travel from northwestern to southeastern Oregon. Reaching the Alvord Desert felt like shedding the dead skin of civilization. It was meaningful to forge ahead into a never-ending expanse of open sagebrush bound by distant mountains. It felt like embarking on a journey based only on trust. Trust that the car wouldn’t break down. Trust that we had enough water. Trust that the desert was dry enough to drive on and that we wouldn’t get stuck in mud.
Our trust paid off. The absence of amenities (aside from the milkshakes at Fields Station), made the world feel bigger — like our consciousness could extend out further than normal, unhindered by obstructions or distractions.
The trip was only a few days but we packed it in: We soaked in hot springs, we watched the full moon rise over the iris and bluebell colored desert, we took photos of ourselves jumping-poised in midair over the hard, flat earth of the playa, we trekked up the Steens Mountains where a creek created a fragrant and lush oasis, we watched hawks and vultures circle overhead, we brewed coffee with hot water begged from gas stations, and we chatted with novel-like characters. In the car, we listened to Slowdive, Derrick Harriott, Kendrick Lamar, and Elizabeth Cotton. We flipped off a drone. We ate ice cream from a town with a population of less than 50.
The drive was long and pleasant. Open stretches allow the mind to wander. What happens in the high desert where no one trespasses? Are there places where the ground squirrels and rattlesnakes have never had to hide from a human? But even on the most remote stretches of the road, there were signs of the carelessness and irreverence of man. After driving without seeing another car for an eternity, we pulled over to stretch our legs. There, caught in the gnarled branches of a sage bush, was a Lays chip bag. Half buried in the sandy ground, a dark beer bottle sat forgotten.
These signs of ingratitude beg some deeper questioning about selfishness. The person who tosses the bottle out of the window is acting selfishly: “I’m done with this and I don’t want it near me anymore.” And further: “I don’t care to consider what happens to this item after it passes from my hand.” An inability to see beyond one’s body and one’s moment is a sad and pervasive trend amongst humans.
Stewarding the land is something we should act on more. I take inspiration from the memory of a gray-haired man off highway 30 — no car, driveway, or bus stop in sight, ripping invasive ivy off of a hillside to make space for native ferns and sedum. Such a simple idea, a selfless act, an ongoing movement.