“Deafening Silences and Other Desert Contradictions”—An Excerpt
I’d grown tired of hearing about borders—who draws them, who protects them, who defines them, who defies them. I’d become weary of the tragedy of refugees, of the anger of nationalists, so exhausted by ignorance and fear, so defeated by the unshakeable hold of hatred in a world that clings so tightly to imaginary lines on ever-changing maps. I dreamed of empty spaces.
I’d already fallen in love with West Texas—with this place that blurs the boundaries between desert and mountain, that erases the line between urban and rural, that makes space for both rancher and artist. When Christi LaViolette invited me to join her while she worked on a desert photo series I didn’t hesitate. I was more than ready to drive away from the real world and forget about those imaginary lines on those ever-changing maps.
As we made our way through the DFW metroplex, the markers of suburbia cycled past: Starbucks, Chili’s, Shell, Olive Garden, Quick Trip, On the Border. The endless, disorienting loop of American life.
“Was that another Chili’s? What town are we in now?”
“Have you ever read Sartre’s ‘No Exit’?”
Somewhere past Abilene, we broke free of the suburban loop. The landscape changed—much flatter now—and the speed limit jumped. As SUVs and sedans gave way to speeding 18-wheelers and loaded farm trucks, I thought about the irony of longing for the slow pace of life in the desert. The freight trains that amble through our cities, dirge-like whistles pushing back against the clip of urban life, hurtle unencumbered through these open spaces. In the distance, where these 80-mph highways slow again to 55 and diverge into urban webs, our cities unknowingly await the cargo, unaware of the lifeblood speeding through the vast countryside.
Wind farms and oil fields. Sweetwater turns into Midland; hundreds of wind turbines bleed into hundreds of pump jacks in a reverse journey through energy innovation. Clean and dirty technologies cut across the landscape in equal measure, swallowing up ranch land and changing lives, invisibly powering distant cities…