Paper without attitude

satellite image Death Valley

I hardly ever long for a front door other than my own. This is unfamiliar terrain. Is there a front door here? 

Intermittent glances at the meter tell me that this area is large, distances transcend comprehension. In Death Valley you move for miles without noticing it. I don’t know how I experience this vastness, I only know that I do. The eye follows a force that is all space and no mass. 

‘Jo Simpson murdered Jim Arnold and was lynched by an angry mob.’ It is the only note I took on this day. A North-American phrase from 1908 with a lot of commotion, tragedy in Times Roman in a landscape from a past made of mines, money and booze. Meanwhile, my thoughts are sans-serif and where the sands begin my pages blank, imaginary desert in my notebook. Across those hot pages donkeys walk, a roadrunner gets away, there are woodstoves and a dust road is winding along vistas and narrow rocks. It’s those blank spreads that proclaim. 

The emptiness that is simply there, because it exceeds human temperature for the larger part of the year, where a scanty network of roads brings you to mummified names like The Devil’s Golf Course, an enormous desiccated saltpan of cracked clay with salt crystals growing upwards like spines, a natural phenomenon. Or Funeral Mountains, a formation of several coffin-like mountain ridges. While you are driving, the ridge transforms from coffin to ordinary mountain, until a new coffin appears next to it. An image that takes place from the corner of your eye in a quarter of an hour by car. On foot or horseback there would be no end to this scenery, a line of sight best avoided.

The colonists and gold diggers did have a sense of humour I think and vividly imagine the moment that the most ironic among them on a horse loaded with pans says with dried-out mouth ‘I’ve seen a lot in my life but I’ll be damned if this ain’t the Devil’s golf course?’ Looking it up later reveals that it was one of the first touristic names, from 1926. Meanwhile I’m searching for Funeral Mountains that does strike me as a  colonist name. It has no market value, if you want to sell something you will have to avoid death. The name must be older than the emergence of tourism. 

The hot spot in this inferno is Dante’s View, which offers an overpowering, “dramatic” panorama that encompasses The Devil’s Golf Course and places like the Artist’s Palette, a rock face formation in pastel shades. The pallet of the artist, the golf course of the devil and Dante’s view are near to each other. If the place had a front door, the three of them would be living together in this back street of the landscape. This is the land of the lawless, the ones who invert life, challenge and question it. They play a game of cards, hit a round of golf, have a discussion, pose a dilemma, all the while waiting for tourists dying to capture their sediments, preferably with a selfie. 

No one beats the United States at marketing and drama. There are more names like the ones mentioned above. Dry Bones Canyon, Chloride City, Devil’s Hole (the bottom has never been found…) and Devil’s Cornfield in particular fire the imagination. Death Valley is hell, it holds no place for God.  

To me, an unbelieving artist in the desert without scripture, these names are humorous in the inexorably hot blow-dryer of 45 degrees that evaporates your presence as you breathe. 

Digitally, the most amazing satellite images appear. From a cosmic perspective, which corresponds to God’s line of sight, the back street is made of expensive marble. Seen from above, everything always seems clear in strong contrast to the view on the ground, where everything takes place, where the names have been devised, there every step, every though causes friction. Words like courage and perseverance have their origin here. To move is the only option, it’s too hot for a stay.

I come across the empty pages of my notebook again and contemplate a sensation of paper without attitude. 

© Karin van Pinxteren 10 February, 2019 | translation Nanne op ‘t Ende


Dante’s View
Artist’s Palette
The Devil’s Golf Course
for the reckless tourist who doesn’t know how nature works