Coast Ranges, Peninsular Ranges.
Motel 6, Santa Maria. Directly west of Death Valley. I’d been driving six hours but awake for days. Vibrating beds. Denny’s next door. An unsettled stomach and the smell. Stale cigarettes. Rainbow brown bedspread, mustard yellow carpet. I closed the blackout curtain. It was noon and all I wanted was sleep. And, of all other, melancholy persona are most subject to diabolical temptations and illusions
Great Central Valley.
I was experiencing a weakness of spirit.
The profusion of flowers, beautiful elsewhere, now tired us with their abundance and their sameness. We will leave you to choose your own starting point, simply stating that W_ and St. J_ have facilities particularly in themselves, for the outfitting of the Emigrant.
At the outset, I had a plan. Head north to the valley where the rusted remains of my great grandfather’s farming tools lay beneath the soil. Straight up I-5 like a shot, Los Angeles to the Central Valley. Nonstop.
River, sycamores, Rancho Punto de Laguna, fugitive assemblage.
Except I did stop, in Altadena, where the air sat stuck up against the mountains. I stopped for a Coke. Then, addled by sugar or smog, I jumped west, 210 to the 134 to the 101.
Each mile cost seventeen lives No guide. Find the lake and follow the rivers to the sea. California. No compass
Dried blood on a sheet, dried blood in the trunk. Fleas desert the dead. Body in the desert. Puce. The color of my car and the color on the television. I wish you were there, author of my predicament. Then you might have understood.
The coast ranges folded and faulted, subduction of the Pacific plate beneath western North America. Island arc volcanics. Carry nothing but seeds. Refuse all shortcuts, all cutoffs.
In Santa Maria, at the mouth of the ofttimes dried up river, in my hotel, I was trying to regroup. Is it possible that existence is our exile I was running from the thing in the trunk. Or rather, running from its implications. Middle of the night, this side of the border, I headed north, even though escapes are always southbound. I couldn’t cross into Mexico. nothingness our home
Or thought I couldn’t, my logic was twisted. The car looked heavy bottomed, I was sure of it. The sort of weight that signals undocumented workers aboard. Of course, I wouldn’t have been stopped from crossing even if I were carrying a whole town of immigrants in the trunk, wheel wells and passenger seats of my car. Not going south, at least. And I wasn’t planning on heading back until I’d unloaded my cargo. But logic wasn’t sovereign in the dark and by the time I reached Los Angeles I couldn’t/wouldn’t reverse my steps.
25 million years, the shape of California inhabiting the close edge of the Miocene. Here we are yet, but the wagon got back late last night and we will move on in the morning.
I wonder about the dementia, my great grandmother, seeing a baby at the foot of the bed. Whose baby? Hers? There is never any time
I should not have ended up in Santa Maria, dried up river, sycamore valley. Orcutt oilfield. It was that Coke in Altadena that did it, set me off on the wrong track.
I was on the wrong track, from the start to the end. I won’t go so far as to say my birth was what set it in motion, but I have some sense that if I can trace blood back far enough, I will be able to understand.
As if tracing blood lines today will tell me why, at four in the morning all those years ago, I slammed the trunk shut on my little Datsun and took to the highway, aiming towards a place that had never offered anything like sanctuary.
is bloodline is attic is lover is arc My great great grandfather, dead of typhoid, buried on the trail. The bones, the dust, the dried-up springs.
It was too much for me. I was exhausted yet I couldn’t sleep. I went out to the car and checked the trunk. She was still there. Still whole and fresh and delightful. You will go in said Nobody
Sometimes girls drank all the laudanum. At the campfire, she felt awfully sleepy That sort of thing you might not expect. Different from Adam’s daughter died of her wounds, or, they were digging a grave for a woman run over when the oxen stampeded These sorts of things make sense.
Do you think she drank it because of the taste? Or was she just done with the whole thing? If hell lay to the west, Americans would cross heaven to get there My radio was abuzz—I hoped it would tell me who I was and who I am now.
This is an excerpt from Fugitive Assemblage. It can be purchased here.