Sex glands in the sand

A week in the weeds. Seven days of precious summer. Out There in the Hills, somewhere between Reno and Elko, between Rye Patch and Oregon. Ever wonder what it’s like to poke around in that sea of sage? Recently, I killed a week in some previously unexplored territory in that section of the Great Basin. Nothing big happened. But the small stuff added up.

There was the slow, switchback drive up a decent dirt road to a 7,400-foot summit, with entire hillsides along the route smothered in purple and blue delphiniums, nettleleaf horsemints, Indian paintbrush, crimson columbines, desert buckwheat and more. There was the hike on one outrageously brilliant mountainside where the air was made thickly sweet with the subtle gas of thousands and thousands of white and yellow lupine blossoms—the total Julie Andrews Sound of Music flashback. The hillside was choked with the little bastards, a display of floral sex organs stretching for at least two thousand vertical feet.

The small cold creek that flows out of a canyon in these smooth green mountains is maybe seven-feet wide and six-inches deep. Cottonwoods can’t get a hold here for some reason, but the coyote willows can, and their branches make shade for the brook trout. You can sit in the clear water to cool your weary haunches, and the fish, after scattering, will slowly resume their positions in the stream, never getting within five feet of you, swimming in a stationary position, waiting for whatever it is they’ve been waiting for centuries and centuries.

I even saw a badger. He was trundling down the road, in the gully on the side. If ever a beast trundled, the badger is the one. I pulled alongside of him in the truck and then kept pace. He looked at me, got bugged and kept heading down the road. Best look I’ve ever had at one of these critters, besides that one unfortunate sumbitch who wound up as Utah roadkill. Finally, this one veered off into the desert and vanished into the pygmy forest of three-foot sagebrush, fed up with the gawking goon in the hell machine.

About a mile down the road, one of the trailer tires ruptured. I instantly went into my pissed-off and oh-so-put-out mode. I cursed and swore as if I had just popped a flat on a rush-hour freeway and then realized … I hadn’t. What I had was a Flat on a Dirt Road in the Weeds in the Summertime, witnessed only by the kestrel on the power line. A cranial voice calmly directed me to cool off, slow down and shut up. Get into it. An opportunity for your basic Zen tire change here in Nowhere, Nevada. The first tool for this job comes not from the box, but from the ice chest.