It looked like an abandoned ark, utterly alone and adrift on a dry ocean of sagebrush. Actually, it was an ancient house, leaning westward near a highway that crossed the flat Nevada desert. There was no visible supply of water nearby , no other building. It appeared to have been unoccupied for fifty years, at least. Nearer a century, perhaps.Skip to next paragraph
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The isolation of the dilapidated structure arrested attention, made one wonder. Might it have been a way station on the Pony Express route? The home of a pioneer heading for California who took one look at the Sierra Nevada yet to be crossed and decided this was far enough?
The builder, denied foresight, could not have dreamed that years later macadam would sweep through the desert like a lava flow, obliterating his hardships. In increasing numbers, travelers would whiz by comfortably sealed inside metal cocoons of recycled air that totally separated them from the dust and heat the builder knew. But can the mind be sealed?
As I drew nearer the old house, an addition to the roof caught my eye. Bright yellow paint, huge letters, ragged calligraphy, stated: ''Roger was here from L.A.''
The house stood year after year as testimony that its builder once viewed that desert as home, then along comes Roger. Was the desert his home? Apparently he finished his rooftop artwork and rushed back to L.A. What brought Roger here? What prompted him to add his postscript? Did his deed give him some insight? A sense of conquest? Conquest of what? Surely he could not think he was staking a claim on uncharted territory.
Could it be Roger found the desert frightening, monotonous? Was he a lone motorist so bored with endless, flat, gray-green sagebrush rippling forever in desert wind that he stopped, climbed onto the roof, and left his mark simply to reassure himself of his existence? Was his rooftop message a declaration of conquest at all? Might it have been a tale of escape?
Possibly it was L.A. that bored Roger, frightened him. Had he driven along one day, seen the house's statement of individuality, been compelled to emerge from anonymity? Was it the desire of a city dweller to leave a mark upon, rather than be absorbed into, nature which motivated Roger? I shall never know! Consider, then, the practical: does Roger always travel with paint handy? Did he buy a can of spray paint, then drive over the Sierra Nevada all the way to that lonely spot for the sole purpose of announcing to subsequent passersby he had been there?
Confound this elusive Roger!
And what about the builder of the house? Did he intend his construction to be a self-conscious proclamation that he had been there? Or was he merely preoccupied with shelter? One can picture Roger buying his can of paint at some discount hardware store, but where had the builder come by his lumber? Hauled logs down from distant mountains? Trimmed trees into boards? Nailed - did he have nails? Where had he learned carpentry?
I looked back down the highway for another quick glimpse of the haunting, disappearing house. That's all it was, after all - a lonely, falling-down house. If it had a story to tell, it could not tell it to speeding motorists who have no time to pause and listen. And yet. . . .
What arrested attention was more than a house. It was something that transformed that nowhere spot in the desert into a human somewhere for at least three of us. Despite different mediums of wood and paint and words, despite separation by time, despite the inability to know or comprehend one another, three of us were joined to that spot through that house . . . and joined to each other.
Perhaps that tenuous, ineffable connection was sufficient. Knowing only that we, each in our turn, have come, have been here, have passed by - knowing someone else will follow and perhaps even notice the signs of our passage - makes for a less frightening, less boring, far less lonely journey across the desert.