top of page

STOIC POETRY | Henry David Thoreau visits Siberia Ghost Town

Updated: Sep 4, 2021

September 17, 2019

Dear Eric,

I entertained myself while shaving this morning by imagining Henry David Thoreau visiting Siberia ghost town. An impossible event to be sure, as the author died more than two decades before Siberia was established. Still...

What would Thoreau Have made of the desert? That's an essay I'd like to read

"June 16th, 1852

Our train was delayed this morning at a remote watering stop called Siberia, located in the East Mojave Desert, sixty-odd miles from that great arterial canal, the Colorado River. Such a name of a place "Siberia," which is so remote a locale, is quite fitting; as the solitude from the remainder of our kind is quite absolute, and in keeping with the idea and image of the landscape of the Czarist's more distant holdings and territories. That someone would come here, let alone settle, is another matter, and one quite fitting for inquiry.

As we were delayed due to intermittent flash flood, a phenomena here, which overran the tracks before dawn by the rarest of cloudbursts; and while the tracks were cleared of sand and debris, I had some time to meander among the few buildings which constitute the town. Most of the structures were built by, and facilitate the business of, the railroad; including a newly made stone structure constructed of irregular rocks from the surrounding desert; each specimen of which tells a unique story in chemistry of the geology of the landscape...which is immense.

Compared to the civilized environs of New England; all smoothed over with small hills, bare of trees or covered by cultivated forests of spruce; our original hardwood wilds all lost to the woodsman's ax generations ago; the desert lands remain utterly untamed, save the dual-ribbon of rails running across them east and west and the appearance at ten mile intervals of watering stops and their associated infrastructure in place to feed and water the railroad. Otherwise, the lands are to themselves. No man, save those who were here first, can make a living for himself unaided by connection with the others. And though I am told that white miners and explorers do sometimes venture into those banded hills and mountains on every horizon, they do so always not like pilgrims on a one-way journey to a better life, but as trappers seeking to capture and take out riches to enliven their own and the common wealth.

I found a small trail of stones just east of the new stone building; a trail such as a child would make outlining a footpath of the imagination, though there are no children here, and even the small ones of the train were not let off-board by restraint of fearful mothers aware of the heat and real and imagined threats of these alien lands. I walked on then to to end of the trail, not far, only a few rods, where it suddenly stopped, and I was standing at the edge of a great vista looking north. I scanned the distance and took in two dark peaks to the east, ancient volcanoes perhaps, and a blacker ridge to the north running miles across the horizon. Great mountains could be seen looming far beyond in several places, impossibly far, impossibly great, and made greater still not by their size but instead by the severity of their locale. Who could ever dare to go there? Who could hope to return from such a journey. And if he did return then what would he have become?

For a moment I had a sense of what I first mistook as despair, and then fear, and then wonder, and finally awe. I perceive there is something out there...or maybe, oddly, ironically, something not. How do I put this sense to words? Indifference, comes to mind.

But I could not stay longer. The conductor has sounded the whistle that our journey west is about to resume."


My name is Kurt Bell.

You can learn more about The Good Life in my book Going Alone.

Be safe... But not too safe.

28 views0 comments
bottom of page