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Deadland

February 9, 2019

20190204_170056-01_resizedThe Salton Sea has been calling to me for years. My friend Joe Nichols had taught elementary school down there and had described the strange, hot, brutal countryside.

Even though Joe was long gone (he moved to the East Coast before he died) I wanted to visit to see where he had lived and to see the Sea. I didn’t want to go during the hot part of the year, and the hot part lasts about 9 months per year, so I kept missing my window, year after year.

Some background: the Salton Sea is California’s largest lake, and it is dying. Created by mistake, it was doomed from almost the beginning. An extreme rate of evaporation combined with industrial agriculture on its shores have left the formerly great lake a saline, shrinking, toxic pond.

The shores of the lake are dotted by failed housing developments (“Lots $4995” read signs), closed businesses and graffitied-over abandoned homes. The roads are so cracked and buckled by extreme heat and neglect that there are moguls, and driving Gladis felt like riding a particularly high-strung dolphin.

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And yet the lake is beautiful, rimmed in the distance by desert mountains. The winter clouds pour across the lake in dramatic bands creating ripples of light and shadow. At sunrise and sunset, the mountains are aflame with reds, orange and pinks right up until the point where darkness falls.

20190205_070424-01_resizedPeople still hang on here. They have to. For some, this was where their single-wide vacation mobile home was, and they ran out of other options. They build structures over the roofs of their metal homes to try to survive the long summers.

Other people are farm workers, braving temperatures of up to 120 degrees to bring us food year-round.

These are the people whose children and grandchildren Joe served as a teacher. He didn’t start teaching until he was in his 40s. He admitted that there were many nights where he laid on the floor drinking ice water, drained from facing the challenges of being a beginning teacher in a blistering climate.

“But the kids are so great,” he said. “I feel like I have to stay here for them.”

I thought of Joe as I drove around and slept on the shores of the Salton Sea. The wind blew hard and the air was tinged with something sharp and metallic. I had never been somewhere so strangely beautiful. I can’t stop thinking about it.

Joe is gone and soon the lake will be gone, too. I wonder who will teach the children then.

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This was on the shore of the lake. Now it is about half a mile away because the lake has shrunk.

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 9, 2019 10:28

    I love the new site banner.

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