Great Divide Basin

By Galvin, James | Sunset, May 1998 | Go to article overview

Great Divide Basin


Galvin, James, Sunset


I speak for a neighborhood not my own, for it is no one's, being unpeopled, and rarely, if ever, spoken for. Indeed it is maligned for the emptiness that fills it.

There is a hole in the middle of the Continental Divide, where the rain that falls finds no river, where the rain that falls has nowhere to go but back. It's the Great Divide Basin, that welcome passage through the backbone of the earth.

Favored by travelers since the beginning of human time in America, it's where people in cars get their impression (lucky for inhabitants of all species) that Wyoming is all horizon and wind, and in winter it's a world of blowing snow. A lot of jackrabbits, sagebrush, and ghostly antelope. In cars people fail to notice the cloud-haunted immensity above, and geologic time writ large and red with bluffs, mesas, overthrusts, absent oceans bloody in sun.

The middle of nowhere. There's a whole in the middle of nowhere, a place. The Red Desert Basin. Wallace Stevens wrote of "the nothing that is not there and the nothing that is." The Desert belongs to the latter, for in reality it is an abundance.

What's there, besides the hissing Interstate with its huge snow fences like sutures in the earth, besides the jackrabbits and sketchy antelope grazing the distance, the great preponderance of sky, the paradox of crossing the Divide twice to cross it once, is a lushness of small bright things: hardy, civil grasses; humble yellow and dove gray and blue mosslike plants; splashes of blue, orange, and yellow lichen on red, red rock; little fairy rings of blue pebbles that memorize where a willing flower thrived and died, and prove there isn't enough rain to scramble them back from symmetry. …

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