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STOIC POETRY | Winter writing

Updated: Sep 4, 2021

October 5, 2019

Dear Eric,

There's a place I go to work. It's way out in the desert - almost two-hundred miles from my current home by the sea. It's a bridge over a flash-flood channel along Route 66 near the ruins of a railroad water-stop called Siberia. I found this place for reasons other than work, by way of adventure, never intending necessarily to return, let alone find work in such a place. Yet, find work I did. Work of a very good and useful sort. Work sifting and sorting thoughts and words and sentences and paragraphs. It's interesting how such a place is an aid to such endeavor; being both a retreat for a focused mind and a catalyst for improved perception and resolve. I find thoughts there below the bridge that might not come to me anywhere else. There's a subtle necessity and resolve there below the road, down in the shadows, in the thick heat of summer and the biting cold of winter, and the halcyon days in-between; a resolve which awakens something akin to necessity and an urgent need to create while there's still time. Time may be the key out there, where it's clear to me we have so little.

Made it to the bridge Very nice below Like coming in from a storm Now I can get to work...

I always come to the bridge in the same way; first at night, and then again by day. This is because I always arrive at Siberia at, or very near, sundown. And I use the waning hour of nightfall to set up camp and get situated ahead of the dark. I arrive on my motorcycle from the west, riding along Route 66 from Ludlow and always arriving just around 8:00 PM. In the summer, there's still half an hour of sunshine left above the horizon, and I watch the burning solar face dip slowly towards, and then into, the Bouillon Mountains while I pound in my tent stakes, eager for the coming respite from the heat which only nighttime or the deep shadows beneath the bridge can provide. Nighttime or shadow are my only shields and escape from the roasting summer oven at Siberia. Such intensity! Darkness, please come now. Sunlight, please go beyond the hills and give up, for a few hours, your murderous oppression of life. I cannot survive very long exposed in the summer desert. I need the darkness of night or the shadow of the bridge to stay alive. Perhaps this is the reason the writing goes so well then - in the shadow or after dark? Maybe it's the fact and reminder of my quite immediate mortality that causes me to choose my words very carefully after the sun is gone, and fosters the muse that might otherwise never speak. Perhaps this is the reason my muse lives there under that bridge... My grasping, lonesome sanctuary from what is truly real. My front-row seat to the awful spectacle of what is true. My face-to-face encounter with the fact of eternal death. The summer writing at Siberia and under the bridge is borne of the close proximity of death and made buoyant of my own animated will to live. My writing under that bridge at Siberia in summer is the perspective of a delirium of life against a backdrop of the sobriety of death. Summer is a very good season for writing at Siberia, though the heat does perhaps madden my mind and bring out words only a wounded and hiding thing might be driven to think.

I also write under the bridge during the in-between months of October and November, and April and May. These are the periods when summer and winter are in transition. And when life is given some chance to rest and come out and live even for a while in the light. The sun is always just passed when I arrive on my motorcycle at these times. And I hear crickets and see the first stars appear and the moon come up all brilliant and cold sometimes over the black volcano to the east. This is a good time. A restful time. A time to remember and love life. A time maybe even to forget about death which is otherwise the desert's perpetual theme and subject of study. I go then to the bridge after dark, and then again during the day, to write like a living mortal. I write of animated promise. I write of the good which can be pursued and performed and completed while we are yet alive. My focus then is more on the living. My writing is more sane. It's a good transitional time to remember what life is and to forget for a short while about the isn't which creeps everywhere in the desert and always sits just beyond the sanctuary of the bridge. The isn't which somehow is. The isn't which might always have been and might always be.

But the isn't, which is also the nothing, always returns. The creeping thing of the desert comes home soon after the gentle months of fall and spring have passed. And it's not the summer nothing that speaks loudest, but the cold and quiet empty of winter that tells the more terrible story of empty and night. It's the winter solitude there at Siberia, and beyond Siberia in the surrounding mountains, which leaves an impression requiring no words, which cannot adequately be put to words, which cares not for words, which is incapable of caring even, or of being, or of every existing, ever. This is the thing I go to the desert for. This is the thing which I do not want but which I can no longer not perceive.

My approach to Siberia in February is fear and grief. The cold onslaught of night is well underway, and my departure from Ludlow a chill and shivering mad resolve. I do not want to go then alone into the desert; and on the motorcycle no less, upon which I have no refuge from the night. There is no place to hide. The big bike leaves me utterly exposed, and blown in the wind, and miserable before the adventure even begins, and doubting my every reason for being there. And yet I never turn back. I would have turned back twenty-years ago, when I was younger and stronger yet weaker and less resolved. I would have turned back then, making up some excuse to tell my family why I came back to their warm embrace. And I would have been glad of my decision to go back then. And yet I would have known that I'd made the wrong choice. What a fool I was to give up so many times in my youth...

But I never give up now. It's my age, you see. There's so little time left. Far too few summers or winters to explore. I can't miss this one unique chance to go and see. And so, I depart Ludlow in the dark. And I shiver and quiver in both cold and fear as I ride alone through the biting night. I ride and ride and fear the night. And I think about all the things that could go wrong. I could crash on the highway, or I could drop the heavy bike in the soft sand at the ghost town road, or my fingers could be so cold and frozen after I arrive that I cannot set up my tent and will suffer exposed upon the open face of the desert winter night; cold starlight staring down with deep indifference; such depth of incapable empty as only a universe without God could possibly muster; a yawning universe of indifference watching with screaming mute eternal night while I shiver alone at the edge of its impossible sea. Stranded, alone and without shelter. These are the thoughts which always occupy my mind between Ludlow and Siberia in the desert winter night; and which I struggle and fight to resist as I move like a cold-burning candle through the dark.

And then I arrive... I know my trial is almost done when the bike and I descend the gentle Mojave grade and make the long left-ward turn to the east which leaves just a few miles between where I am and the dirt road turnout to Siberia. Soon, I pass the ruins of the gas station once run by Sal and Ruth, and then I spot the writing bridge where I always slow as I pass over, imagining the words to come after I soon find my way below its darkened scaffolds. And then there's the tire at the side of the road marking the way into Siberia. And I turn on my left blinker - a silly habit of mine out there in the empty - and then stand up on the big bike's pegs, and then I'm off the highway and onto the sand. The fear then suddenly begins to depart, starts to shed, must go as my resolve to come here has won out and I've almost arrived. I ride then very carefully, and with the cautious sense of an aged champion, through and over the sand and up to the place where I always stop and park the bike. It's a short distance, yet a long way coming. It's a place and a thing I need to fifty years to do. I then stop the bike, unwind the wires which connect me to the machine, walk to the sand berm at the east-side of the dirt road and drop my backpack. And then I walk back and maneuver the enormous, heavy bike - still running - around to my familiar parking spot, with the nose of the bike facing the road, ready for escape should I need to fly. Remember, it's winter now. And my everything is freezing. My hands are shaking in the cold. My teeth are chattering, and my limbs are sore with the killing chill. And then I lay the bike over onto the side-stand which I position upon a piece of scrap metal I once found in the desert and always use now to hold up the bike. The engine has been running all this time. The headlights cutting a ridiculously weak beam of light into the dark cold. I'm about to do the thing that marks the end of the fear and the true start of my winter adventure in the desert of Siberia. I pull off my glove and reach my shaking hand to the bike's starter, grasp the key and turn it to the left, shutting off the engine and killing the light. Immediately everything goes black. My vision, not yet accustomed to the dark, compounds the night into utter blackness. I'm blind. And I'm cold, so cold. There's a cold wind blowing which I feel on my exposed hand and face, and only the promise of still more cold deeper and longer into the coming night. I'm blind. And I'm cold, so cold. But I'm no longer afraid... The fear is gone. The fear is utterly gone. I've made it back to Siberia swimming upstream of my fear. I've arrived again to that place I should not want to go. There's no warmth here. There's no family - I have those still behind me at my home and I will return. But for now, there's just the cold, and the empty, and the solitude and the echo of something that once was fear. And there's the darkness, now becoming clear. And there are some cold stars now I can see twinkling with chill light. And there's the outline of the mindless mountains to the north and the south. And the mindless universe begins to become clear. And the indifference is apparent again to me. The thing I come here to see. The nothing which is best found in winter- when I'm alone, and cold, and in danger...and I came anyway.

Let the winter writing begin...


My name is Kurt Bell.

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

Be safe... But not too safe.

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