Except on freeways, it is rare in the Nevada desert to see a sign which alludes to distance or destination. Few signs are installed and among those there is an assured transience. Signs are shot, wrangled and ultimately removed. During our trip to the Nevada desert in May I noticed a new sign at a 4-way intersection of unpaved roads on Antelope Plains. The sign for “Jungo Road” stood not far from another new sign, one for “Black Rock Desert.” The “Black Rock Desert” sign replaced an existing sign and warned travelers that they were entering an area with no services and no help available. It was an expensive-looking sign with a colorful map, wood frame and plexiglass cover. Already it bore several bullet holes. The sign for “Jungo Road” was smaller and exposed. I noted it indifferently, knowing it would soon be gone.
A month later when we returned to the area, the “Jungo Road” sign was already compromised and falling. But what I had failed to predict was that in its place stood a softly sculpted memorial. The sign post–a singular metal stalk–was swathed in pink and dusty suede that ascended toward the sky. Upon seeing it, I felt relieved because I had begun to wonder if the girl had been forgotten. I say “girl” because the first inclination I had that someone was being honored at that 4-way was a couple of years ago, when I noticed a pink stuffed rabbit tied to a post on the intersection’s southwest corner. The rabbit’s head dangled and dust stained its floppy ears. Were it not for the animal’s cuddly connotations, I would have assessed the scene as a bit macabre; instead I felt confident that the rabbit’s presence was a sign of love and began to look for it, even look forward to it, whenever we took that route. In fact, I enjoyed spotting the rabbit on several occasions before I became aware of an uneasy shift taking place inside me. Then, each time we approached the intersection, I hoped I would see the rabbit but feared I would not. After all, I thought, how long could the rabbit last in that dust, that wind, that rain, that snow, that heat?
Often months passed between our trips out there. Then nearly a year. Then one day we drove through the intersection. And the rabbit. Was. Gone.
The intersection of Jungo Road and Old Emigrant Road is as barren as any I have seen. It is not by a stretch the most remote location in that region but it is remote enough to make me question the placement of the nearby “Black Rock Desert” sign with its traveler warning. From that sign it is a twenty minute drive to the nearest small store for a bottle of water and a full hour to an establishement that’s sufficiently stocked for a major supply run. And that’s raising some dust. There’s a lot of time to think during all that driving. And if you’re headed into Black Rock Desert, there’s even more time.
Throughout my travels with my husband in and out of the Black Rock Desert I thought about why the rabbit’s absence so affected me. I reflected on the fact that a roadside memorial usually evolves from a sudden and tragic loss. I wondered who had died and if her loved ones lived nearby. Or if any passers by besides me missed the sight of her rabbit.
I also thought about my family, our sudden and tragic losses, the life-sized holes that survived so long in those of us that lived. I wondered if my mother mourns in springtime when I am not there with her to plant flowers on my grandfather’s grave. I wondered who has my brother’s ashes.
Ashes to ashes.
Dust to dust.
In the desert, when dust is stirred by the wind it robs us of breath and sight and causes the Land Rover to hiccup and invades its portals, seeping around the latches and sealing the doors shut with us inside. Sometimes we can reach through a window and open a door by use of the outside handle. But sometimes we simply have to wait for the dust to settle.
That’s just the kind of day it was in June when we approached the Jungo Road intersection. The first thing I saw was a stuffed elephant tied to the pole where the rabbit had once been. Then I saw the sign post. Love shimmied up the post and beyond, a gloved hand reaching heavenward, proclaiming: She will never be forgotten. Travelers from Winnemucca, the Black Rock Desert, the Majuba Mountains, Lovelock, Gerlach and beyond—would come upon it and witness this revived memorial, this sign of love on Jungo Road.
It stands intently, for everyone to see.