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Barry Lopez's DESERT NOTES from OUTSIDE

by Burgin Streetman on

Beautifully illustrated with engravings by legendary artist Barry Moser, Outside is a collection of six short stories that showcase Barry Lopez’s superb talent as a fiction writer. The first story, "Desert Notes", is a classic. 

I know you are tired. I am tired too. Will you walk along the edge of the desert with me? I would like to show you what lies before us. 

All my life I have wanted to trick blood from a rock. I have dreamed about raising the devil and cutting him in half. I have thought too about never being afraid of anything at all. This is where you come to do those things. 

I know what they tell you about the desert but you mustn’t believe them. This is no deathbed. Dig down, the earth is moist. Boulders have turned to dust here, the dust feels like graphite. You can hear a man breathe at a distance of twenty yards. You can see out there to the edge where the desert stops and the mountains begin. You think it is perhaps ten miles. It is more than a hundred. Just before the sun sets all the colors will change. Green will turn to blue, red to gold. 

I’ve been told there is very little time left, that we must get all these things about time and place straight. If we don’t, we will only have passed on and have changed nothing. That is why we are here I think, to change things. It is why I came to the desert. 

Here things are sharp, elemental. There’s no one to look over your shoulder to find out what you’re doing with your hands, or to ask if you have considered the number of people dying daily of malnutrition. If you’ve been listening you must suspect that a knife will be very useful out here--not to use, just to look at.  

There is something else here, too, even more important: explanations will occur to you, seeming to clarify; but they can be a kind of trick. You will think you have hold of the idea when you only have hold of its clothing. 

Feel how still it is. You can become impatient here, willing to accept any explanation in order to move on. This appears to be nothing at all, but it is a wall between you and what you are after. Be sure you are not tricked into thinking there is nothing to fear. Moving on is not important. You must wait. You must take things down to the core. You must be careful with everything, even with what I tell you.

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