It was Day Four of my westward drive, my overloaded (Subaru) wagon hauling me, my four-legged companion, and the possessions I had determined were worth holding on to toward our new life in the mysterious emerald city of San Francisco. The lush mountains of North Carolina felt very far away as I drove through endless miles of barren desert, desert sage scenting the air. I gathered a bundle of it from the roadside and placed it next to the Athena statue on my dash. “I’m not really sure what I’ve gotten myself into, but I’ll take all the blessings I can get”.
It had been hours since I’d passed through a town of any note, when suddenly I started climbing mountains. This was a welcome change for my exhausted and road-hypnotized eyes and I navigated the high speed (70mph speed limit?!) curves with pleasure. As I curved around the final mountain side and started a downhill descent, a city expanded in my vision, filling an entire valley. It had been a very long four days, hell four months really, and I was rather caught off guard by this, particularly following the hours of isolation.
The voice spoke: “This is Reno. You will be back here again. But don’t stay… do not stay.”
I swatted the voice away. It had been an exhausting four days, and an even more hellacious four months, and I was in no mood for strange messages. “What the hell are you talking about? I’m going to San Francisco! Why would I leave there for Reno?! Screw the desert.”
I could feel the sigh and pestering at the edge of my awareness, but I knew I had one of the most challenging, and the final, legs of my journey ahead of me. “Later. I need to concentrate.”
26 months later, I was driving a minivan behind a rental truck as we navigated Donner Summit at night in the rain, heading to Reno. I’d met a guy who after 14 years was getting out of the military… and guess what, had been raised in Northern Nevada, so he was ‘going home’ and I was going with him.
It hit me at that moment, remembering the message I’d received. Just goes to show, it doesn’t really matter if you listen or not. What Fate, or the Gods, have in store for you cannot be avoided.
I’ve been here two and a half years now, and the final part of that message is also ringing very true. Do not stay here.
Reno, and the entire Northern Nevada area, is a very strange place. Reno is it’s own little bubble in every way. To be blunt, it is sick. The land in the Reno area is some of the most damaged I have ever encountered, and I’ve been in some pretty fucked up places. I have theories about why this is – the Indian Wars, the long history of exploitation of people, land, and resources, gambling – it’s been the perfect mix of degradation and negativity for over 150 years. It’s a deep wound; one that I have yet been able to find the source of.
Once you get outside Reno, there is shockingly vast wild land. Or so it appears. Its ‘quieter’ here, and some places are almost pleasant. But there are other places, so many places, where the land and the spirits of that land feel like they have given up. Razed of everything of capitalist value, it is empty, hollow, sunken, alone. The spirits I have encountered in these places are but hollow skeletons, wisps of what they once were. Taken advantage of and then forgotten. And so desperate for someone to take notice, to listen to them, that they pull and tug and overwhelm the senses – dislocating me from time and place.
And that is a part of the reason I am here, part of my Work in any place I go – to listen. To remember. To share the stories. To heal and re-enchant. It is perhaps the most important work we have to do, before there is nothing left.