Desert Meditations: Water

Humboldt River Pershing County NevadaMy favorite short travel memoir, “The Truck,” is set in the Sahara, where the author, Ryszard Kapuscinski, is confronted with dying of dehydration after he hitches a ride with a stranger out of Mauritania.  When the truck in which they are lurching across the rocky terrain breaks down, Kapuscinski surveys the water supply, acknowledging his apprehension as he wonders whether the driver will hoard the vital resource, perhaps going so far as to beat Kapuscinski off with the hammer he is using in an attempt to repair the vehicle.  After several hours when Kapuscinski begins to hallucinate, however, the driver holds out a goatskin of water in spite of the fact that by sharing they will both die sooner–within a day if not rescued; but they are.

On January 3rd my husband and I crossed the icy Humboldt River at the Imlay entrance to Antelope Range to become sole travelers on a 150-mile journey through the northern Nevada desert.  Midway to our destination we stopped to read a small crude marker at the entrance to a trail.  It is rare in that region that anything is identified by sign: road, trail, plain, range, spring or mine.   The marker, placed by an organization which documents emigrants’ travels, displayed a quote by an emigrant who, passing there, was asked by another party to share his water; alas, he recalled, we had not a drop for ourselves.  The marker stands about seven miles from a remote canyon where my husband and I broke down last September after a rock punctured our vehicle’s oil pan.   The temperatures that afternoon teetered on one hundred degrees.  We tented our car with towels and made a plan to walk out at dawn, 35 shadeless miles to the nearest town.  We wondered whether we could carry sufficient water for walking such a distance, entirely bared to the sun.  That evening as shadows began to fall, a truck flanked by dust flew down the canyon, whereupon my husband flagged the driver and, after much urging, persuaded him to drive us to safety.  Though we were grateful to be rescued, the experience left us with indelible wisdom: no matter how much water you carry with you into the desert, the supply is finite, save God.

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