This post originally appeared on High Country News and is reposted with permission.“Rants from the Hill” are Michael Branch’s monthly musings on life in the high country of western Nevada’s Great Basin Desert.
The Rants from the Hill essay series has appeared in High Country News online every month, without fail, since July 2010. A lot has happened in those (almost) six years as we—my wife, Eryn, and our daughters, Hannah and Caroline—have lived as fully as possible our shared life here on a remote hill in western Nevada’s Great Basin Desert. And now, with this farewell Rant, I draw the essay series to a close.
Occasionally I’m asked how I’ve managed to write 69 essays in a row about anything, let alone something as apparently mundane as daily life around my windy corner of the high desert. I like to answer this question with another question: Why would I spend a decade walking 13,000 miles within a ten-mile radius of my home? Both my writing and my walking recover (in both senses of that word) the same ground, circling it in all weathers and all seasons, turning this place over and over in my hands and in my imagination, appreciating each day anew that there is more to this wild desert and to our life within it than a lifetime of reflection and walking will ever reveal.
While it has often been difficult to choose from among the many things I wanted to write about each month, I have never lacked for ideas, even after so many years of exploring and celebrating this place in the Rants. Although we inhabit an arid, open landscape that many folks describe as empty, sparse, or bare, the fact that this place has been so fecund, so productive of fascinating topics for the essays, is a fitting testimonial to its richness. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in Nature(1836), “The ruin or blank, that we see when we look at nature, is in our own eye.” In other words, if you look at the sagebrush steppe desert and see “nothing” there, that is not the desert’s problem; rather, it is yours. The challenge is to inform and sharpen our perception to make the land’s perpetual miracle visible. For me, that honing of perception is best achieved through a daily practice of writing and walking. I don’t intend to pontificate. I mean only to say that this stubborn recrossing of the local territory has opened a small door through which I’ve entered the unscalable immensity of this vast desert.
Continue reading the full post on High Country News.