“The man who comes looming out of the fog to us is always the first man made. He is the authentic image of God, speaking our own secret and extraordinary tongue, especially if we have lost the way… The man who came out of the fog last night with a great torch to help my cabman along was not (I think) a cabman. He was not even a man. He was a god.” – Chesterton
I was on Flamingo. But I had, at once, one of those moments in which I remained yet left. Staring into the grey, the sun had vacationed – one of the few days of summer the Vegas sun sleeps. I fixed my eyes westward; the Bellagio’s outline, almost a flimsy, unfinished sketch, a reflection on a lake, peered out of the grey. It was, as if, the grey predominated the hotel-casino; as if, the casino descended upon the grey, not the grey upon the casino. And as I observed the Bellagio’s center tower, I had, as it were, one of those moments. I gazed not at a hotel-casino but a silo; I stood amongst corn-rows and tractors, not lanes and cars, and I gazed through wet grey fog. The moment lasted but for a second, and when I came to, I observed again the greyness of the day. I realized more than ever that I was surrounded. Yet I was not surrounded by the welcoming-waters of a prairie fog but a thick layer of dust. I waded through a desert fog.
The air in Vegas is, generally, and surprisingly, clean and clear. But on certain days, often in mornings or evenings, the ash rises from the sun-burnt earth and all Vegas wades through an even thicker haze than usual. One evening, some time ago, I walked with two souls. The air was crisp, one of those evenings where the very air feels brittle and yet thicker than usual. It too was dusty, and the air seemed to snap like a cracker, leaving crumbs. My comrade first noticed the haze, and pointing to a street-lamp, we saw the earth’s ash glimmer in the glow of yellow-light against the black. We could see each dust particle move, almost like a swarm of lazy gnats, or better, like the pixie-dust falling from a fairy godmother’s wand. The vision occurred to me similar to snow-fall, as men gaze at lights for proof. Only this desert-snow not only fell but rose, and in rising and falling together, it danced in the dark of the yellow glow while three souls ambled underneath.
The corn-stalks droop and bow submissively to the thick, early-morning dew. Boots sink in the uneven soil, a slop-squish, squish-slop echoes as bodies march down the rows. The earth does not weep like the sky. The melodramatic sky cries, wails, wants attention. The earth’s tears are excess. They are the leftovers of a man holding back, the tears that never leave eyelids. They bottle and bulge but only evaporate with the heat. It is, I suppose, much like a man who has sand, or dust, in his eye. Perhaps the sower’s seeds beget the earth’s dew. The scattered seed, mixed with soil and dirt, stings and causes our earth to weep.
On some prairie mornings, the dew and fog are alive, almost an organism in and of itself. It moves, slowly, suspiciously. The dew and fog hover and seem to raise the stalks from their humble beginnings. Mornings after a good rain, absent of much dew, are dryer than the sopping, dew-soaked dawn. Those early mornings mirror the morning of the world before there was rain, when there went a mist about the earth like the very Spirit of God. The closest thing the desert produces are sand-cyclones, dust-devils. Outside of town, the wind whirls the dust in the air. The dust dances with itself, a solo ballerina, observing a sort of rain-dance. Round and round the cyclone spins. I’ve never seen a real cyclone, but I have seen a plain sky turn in upon itself. I have felt terror. A dust-devil is not terrible. When two join they are but waltzing gypsies, striding the desert, looking for a home. But, I suppose, they would cause a terrible sting in one’s eye, and like an unfaithful gypsy, produce a great deal of tears.
Recently, I biked down University. A few men with pick-axes hacked at the ground and dust rose with the contact. Any desert-work produces much dust. Tractors, cranes, shovels, pick-axes, boots, shovel and shift and spread the ash through the wind. A sort of cloud hovers around skeleton-buildings, the frames of what-will-be. The cloud ghosts through beams, plywood, drywall, until, leaving, a stucco-structure, picture perfect but likely cardboard-flimsy. Vegas infrastructure rises with dust and rests on sand.
I woke once in a desert haze. That morning the meadow was muted. So many days of scorching sun; bright mornings followed by brighter afternoons followed by blinding evenings, when the sun sets and swells. Any slight altercation, the smallest cloud, thinnest haze, one notices almost immediately. I knew something was up even as I descended the steps, before I left the shade and comfort of entry-way. Having left it, I cast my eyes skyward; a thick layer of dust had risen and settled. Vegas was slowly being cremated. On most days, the brown and tan Spring Mountains are seen with ease. On this day, as I looked north, there was no trace of their presence. Unlike fog, though, which has a lively, somewhat comforting appeal, the sand-clouds hovering about feel menacing. The town has scattered dust, not oil, on its head. One surrounded by sand reminds himself that to dust he shall return. And when one’s thoughts scatter like the dust above and below, deep in reflection, he realizes more fully why the desert begot so many religions. One who wanders the sandy wilderness wanders a dead world. It is with parched mouth and throat, scorched skin and brain, that man sees visions. The desert fog is not so lively as the prairie fog that hovers like the mist before the world, a spirit raising stalks. But then, man was not formed of the mist but of the dust. Not every town witnesses the visions of the prairie fog; not every region witnesses the vision of the desert fog. But every town does witness the vision of those misty-eyed, spirit-filled dust-devils, waltzing on two legs through the haze.
The Jolly Mariner – Rochelle Avenue
Las Vegas, Nevada
August 11-16, 2016
Painting: “A London Fog”
By Charles Albert Ludovici
Oil on canvas, c. 1870
*Idea and some images of this taken from an essay by G.K. Chesterton, “The Festival and the Fog,” courtesy of R. Eric Tippin. As well, one specific image taken from Mr. Tippin’s “Trifler, No 18,” and several phrases or verbs appropriated from his work. This is my first known work of plagiarism.