Just deserts

I don’t remember how it happened, but it didn’t take long for me to develop a strong affinity for The Desert after I moved to Reno in ‘77. Its vastness of view, space and quiet, combined with the intriguing possibilities offered by snakes, UFOs, hot springs and bordellos, gave The Desert a weird, sinful allure rarely found in the crowded sprawl of California. It didn’t hurt that I have a natural affinity for sagebrush, an essential factor in the conversion process.

When vacation time rolled around a couple of weeks ago, it wasn’t surprising that once again I stuffed the tent trailer with books, noodles and ultra-greasy snack foods, and prepared to head out and search for new canyons of paradise in The Great Wasteland. They’re out there, delicious little slices of Eden that afford out-standing opportunities for five-star R&R—and I’m not talkin’ rock ‘n’ roll.

Spend a few years here on the backside of the Sierra, and it all becomes very clear. To the west are the ocean and the madness of the teeming, squealing, stressed-out hordes. To the east are the sweet sanity of peace, quiet, dust and dung. You might want to poke around in the weeds the next time you have a few days to fill. If so, read and absorb the following:

1. Load up on the three B’s—beer, bacon and bug spray. Even Gandhi may have found bacon irresistible when camping. Don’t forget the three C’s—coffee, cash and Caladryl—the last of which you’ll need should you forget the last item in the B’s.

2. Don’t wear headphones while hiking. You really want to hear the snake when it shakes that little thingie on the end of its tail.

3. If you have deli meat in the ice chest, it will get wet. Accept it, roll with it, get Buddhist about it. Remember that desire is the cause of all suffering. Your crazed desire for dry turkey is going to cause some savage suffering when you pull out those slices soaked in melted ice. Either learn to love wet lunchmeat, or upgrade your ice chest.

4. Bird watchers, remember that third cup of coffee makes it tough to hold binoculars steady. If you like hummingbirds, just sit around wearing bright red baseball cap. See how many hummers buzz up and stick their bills in.

5. During the evening session around the fire, keep the gossip to a minimum. You can talk about your friends’ sex partners and money woes all you want back in town. In the desert, get heavy. Talk about stuff like Consumerism as Big Religion, Disney as The New Evil Empire and your Favorite Monster Movies.

6. Go to bed early and get up late. You won’t believe how much you can sleep while stretched out next to a gurgling stream under an old cottonwood.

This classic Van Dyke column ran on Aug. 21, 1996. We don’t really know what happened to Bruce this week, but we expect he’ll return next issue.