Riding Towards Everywhere

One night not long ago, in a certain desert valley that I love, a farewell gathering for friends had ended, and we were all feeling sad. Since I had been sitting in company for hours, I decided to return to the ranch alone and on foot. It was an easy walk of three or four miles which I had made several times over the years, always in the heat of the day. Now it was coolish, windy, and so cloudy that I could just barely see my feet. Usually the desert nights are star-bright enough even in moonless intervals, and so I had a sense of joyous adventure setting out, with a small bottle of water in my shirt pocket and another in the pocket of my bluejeans. Presently the lights of the departing cars began to stream as slowly as a funeral procession down the dirt in the neighborhood of my left shoulder. I had chosen another road which was shorter and sandier, so that I would have it to myself. When the cars reached the main highway, which it took them surprisingly long to do, they turned right, representing themselves now by the tiniest precious beads of yellow-whiteness, snailed across my vision, and were gone. Then it was darker than dark. Fortunately the sand was pale enough to reflect its soft reliability up between the silhouettes of my feet. I stayed in a rut and walked easily, the dark wind at my back. By the time I had finished my first bottle of water, its contents were as warm as blood. The wind grew increasingly wild, the darkness more absolute. I could barely see the lights of the old maintenance station ahead; the ranch lights were hidden behind those; I recognized the mountains more by memory than by sight. Suddenly I began to ask myself: Who am I? I found that I was speaking aloud. Over and over I whispered and shouted to myself: Who am I? (Vollmann 105-106).

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