I'm surprised by a lot of things out here in the desert.
When most people back East think of Oregon, they picture a lot of rain. Green things. Growing things.
Not here. This is Eastern Oregon, right on the old Oregon Trail. My home is now on the Snake River, the Big Bend crossing. Across the highway from my Aunt's property is a monument to the dozens of men and women who died fording the river here.
I live in a town of 156 people, most of whom are farmers and descendants of pioneers. People here are leathery and kind, and no one asks questions. I like that.
I was surprised by the dryness. Coming from the humid coast of South Carolina, I took rain and water for granted. My skin looks about ten years younger than my true age, but I expect that to change radically. When I get up in the morning and wash my face, I have to moisturize twice. My skin sucks up the lotion the way the ground out here drinks water - greedy, unquenchable. The fine lines around my eyes deepen more every day.
I was also surprised by the sky. Dazzled, even. I am used to big water - I spent years on the Atlantic Ocean in my spare time, boating and fishing and drifting - but big water never made me feel small. The sky where I am from is manageable, well-behaved, an inoffensive pastel periwinkle. The sky out here is enormous, ringed by sterile white clouds and pinned down in the far distance by snow-capped mountains, though people here call them hills. The sky is the color of a sociopath's eyes, a clear and piercing blue that hurts to look at for more than a few seconds.
At night the stars are relentless. They don't shine as much as they glare. Every single one seems determined to make a name for itself, trying to outdo all the others like an insecure chorus girl. It's odd to have such an enormous, insistent sky and no one to share it with, no one to make love to beneath it, no one to split the burden of the awe with.
The sky reminds me of how insignificant I am. I like that too.
I spent October, November, and most of December in Hilo, Hawaii. I fell asleep every night to the percussive rain on the tin roof. I left Hawaii in a psychotic state, and when I first got here I thought I'd been sent to hell.
By the time I was stabilized on the proper medications, the desert had taken hold of me.
I've grown to love the vast silences, the feel of being truly alone at the end of the world. It's less of a lie than my marriage, where I'd been alone for years but was able to pretend I had a companion. Here, the loneliness is unadorned and stark. It's honest.
This county is the largest and least populated place in the continental US. I am sure there are places in Alaska that are more remote, but this is as far away from other people as you can be while in the US proper. That's something else I like.
I didn't like the spiders at first. They are everywhere. I see them out of the corner of my eyes at all hours of the day and night. Last week I woke up to one perced on my pillow, watching me like a lover. They're marvelously stubborn things, though, and I've started to name some of them. Seymour lives in my bathroom light fixture, Maud likes to come out from behind my computer when I type. They have a resilience I admire, and they are much more interesting to watch than cockroaches in Charleston were.
I think I am beginning to understand why prophets and madmen are born in deserts. It's impossible to live for long under impassive skies without surrendering to something - God, or madness, or both. Maybe God is madness.
I think I can live here. The silence is unending and the chatter in my head has succumbed to it. My thoughts come more slowly, like the respiration of a holy man in a deep trance. My head has never been so clear.
I've begun to write again.
I've been thinking a lot about Sam, about us, about how draining it was to love him. Loving someone with Asperger's Syndrome is an exercise in frustration. It's trying to fill a thirsty, dry lakebed with thimblefuls of liquid. Love beads off of him like droplets of water on a freshly waxed car. Frantic semaphores to the blind.
Rambling is an extravagance I've allowed myself lately. My thoughts go unedited, unspooling like ribbon, like time. No one is here to catch them, so they fall useless and sterile to the unwatered earth.
Loneliness is clean. It's empty and clean. I never thought I'd have so much of it.