The air in Elko this morning was clean and dry and cool, and it made me feel like a million dollars. We walked a couple of blocks to McAddoo’s in downtown Elko for breakfast, and then headed over to the Western Folklife Center, the home of the Cowboy Poetry Gathering in late January, and currently housing an exhibit on Basque sheepherders that we thought sounded like it was worth seeing. But the Center is closed on Sundays, so we read the cowboy poem that was displayed on six banners hung in six large windows near the entrance. The section of the poem on the first banner read:
PUTTING THE RODEO TRY INTO COWBOY POETRY
with the wildest
by far more of them
than of our own kind
and, yes, we are
talking other hearts,
It was a pretty good poem, and I took photos of each window so I could remember it.
We drove across north Nevada, a land of forbidding desert and mountains interspersed with small green valleys that look so inviting that you want to settle down and live there. We could have lived in Elko, if there were jobs for us; my cousin Susan and her husband ran a computer business in Winnemucca for many years, and I can understand why they wanted to live in a small city in northern Nevada: open and friendly people, bracing desert air, incredible natural beauty that overwhelms even the tawdriest casino. We stopped in Battle Mountain for lunch. It is not as attractive a city as Elko, but it was still a pleasant place to spend an hour or two.
As we made our way down into Reno, the traffic got heavier, and the fact that I would have to return to ordinary life tomorrow at last began to emerge in my consciousness. Then we climbed up out into the Sierra Nevadas, and stopped at the Donner Summit rest area. We needed to stretch our legs, so we walked along some of the trails that connect to the rest area.
One of the trails that connects to the rest area is the Pacific Crest Trail. We met three or four people through-hiking the trail from Mexico to Canada; Carol offered to take photos of Sheepdog, and later of Trivia — these are their trail names, for through-hikers on long distance trails in the United States tend to use trail names rather than their regular names — and then email the photos to them. We chatted a bit with both these hikers, and Sheepdog said that there had been very little water for the last fifteen miles of the trail, and that it had been a very hot day, and that she would have loved a cold can of soda. Unfortunately, we had none to offer her.
We ate dinner at the rest area, enjoying the delightful air that you get in an alpine environment at an altitude of about six thousand feet above sea level. At last it was time to begin the drive back down out of the mountains, down to sea level and the Bay Area. Down, down, down we drove, and when we got to Loomis (population 6,430, elevation 399), I realized that this was probably the lowest altitude we had been at since we left Massachusetts. Down we drove, dodging the crazed drivers going at maniacal speeds — I imagined they were stressed-out people trying to get home after a relaxing weekend in the mountains — and I thought about when we drove under the Appalachian Trail where it crossed Interstate 90 in the Berkshires just a few days ago, and I thought about my friends who hiked the Appalachian Trail, and I wondered where Sheepdog and Trivia would spend the night tonight; and now I sit here at home wondering why we take long trips, pilgrimages, that have no real destination, trips that are taken only for the sake of leaving home and then returning once again.