Discover more from Tell Me How This Ends
Go to America
in your freedom machine
It isn’t real. The mediated world, the invented reality delivered to you through screens, increasingly wanders off into a deep space of its own making. Transgender beer cans and transgender baby onesies and GROWING OUTRAGE over FASCIST BOOK BANS like poor Amanda Gorman’s poem being moved from one shelf in a school library to another shelf in the same library, which is literally just like Adolf Hitler: fake. It’s a manufactured reality that has to be kept afloat by the frantic efforts of an army of professional fakers. You can escape it.
Specifically, you can escape it through the sophisticated technique that scholars call “driving around.” Trade the screen for a windshield, and notice how many people you meet who announce their pronouns at the start of a conversation. It’s none, by the way.
I just had a tiny travel window, with my family otherwise occupied for a couple of days, so I jumped in my freedom machine and took off — from Saturday morning until Sunday afternoon, barely enough time for anyone to notice I was gone. You can see a lot if you travel like this, and it can keep your head on more or less straight. A certain teenager is tired of my favorite advice about life, which is this: “Find the pedal on the right, and push down on it.”
Now: In the late 1880s, with the native people of the Plains and the Great Basin facing final defeat and consolidation by a hostile civilization, many different people across a very large region began to adopt a ritual of revival, the Ghost Dance, that was supposed to have originated from the visions of an Indian messiah named Wovoka. So the federal government, wanting to understand something that looked extremely disturbing from a distance — especially this part, adopted from the earlier Sun Dance — sent a government ethnographer named James Mooney to investigate.
Mooney spent almost two years traveling among the tribes in incredibly harsh conditions, joining the Ghost Dance himself and doing the scholarship of hanging out with people. Asking around, he finally tracked down the Indian prophet, finding him on foot with a gun over his shoulder in the Walker River valley: “The man replied, and sure enough it was the messiah, hunting jackrabbits.” The resulting ethnographic report, which was greeted with concern and distaste in government offices, documents a great moment of human understanding between a pair of goat-tough men who sat around in the dirt and talked to each other.
I’ve been wanting to see the place where James Mooney found Wovoka, and wanting to visit Wovoka’s grave, so I finally got there over the weekend.
And I found this tent, but not at the right moment:
The Schurz Paiute Indian Cemetery was remarkably crowded on Sunday, with families tending to graves and a military detail assembling for the funeral of a veteran. So I was here very briefly:
A moment after I arrived, the officiant at the nearby funeral called the military detail to attention to begin the service, and I left quickly and quietly. Wovoka, the “Indian Messiah and Prophet” who offered a spiritual vision to resist conquest by the U.S. Army, is buried in a row with the military grave markers of U.S. Army veterans, and I reached his grave as another Paiute veteran was being laid to rest nearby. Persistence and adaptation, written on the landscape.
From there, I drilled the front tires of my front-wheel-drive car deep into the soft sand on the shore of Walker Lake:
….but it only took a few minutes to dig out.
Pointing the car more or less toward home, I passed the Hawthorne Depot, then headed over the pass from the town of Hawthorne, Nevada back to Lee Vining, California. This drive is a good one. You should do it, at some point, if you can. See the first picture, up toward the top.
Finally, nearing Lee Vining, I took a random guess and tried a dirt road along the north side of Mono Lake.
It took me here, down Cemetery Road to Black Point:
On the way back to the blacktop, I stopped at Dechambeau Ranch, abandoned in 1945 after two generations of farming:
If you read the news, “Americans are more divided than ever, gridlocked over social issues, race, gender and the economy.” If you travel around the country, people are remarkably friendly, or at least remarkably polite, and you’ll find endless reminders that people have lived well in difficult circumstances. It’s good medicine, and it’s easy to go look for it.
Tell Me How This Ends is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.