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DEATH VALLEY INCIDENT
We went rollicking over the desert floor. It
was three-thirty in the morning and a half moon was up. We
were cold and shivering. Someone was singing, and we
shivered back the chorus.
Alouette, Alouette, Alouette.
O Alouette, Alouette,
Jug o' wine
Jug o' wine
blonde . . .
O Alouette, O
Alouette . . .
Someone decided to overtake us. They were all fraternity
guys and their car was plastered with Greek hieroglyphs.
They hailed a brother of theirs who had tumbled in with us
in the confusion of the darkness. He yelled back
triumphantly, then returned to singing the calls:
O Alouette, Alouette
. . .
The moon kept on silver shining on the fantastic undulations
of rock and sand. We'd pass huge tanks of water which glowed
with red paint in the car lights. In my head went the words
of some poem . . .
is charged with the grandeur of God
It will flame out
like shining from shook foil.
The car lights ahead began winding up the mountain side. As
they came round the hairpin bends they'd shine at us and
blind our eyes. The quiet stars overhead seemed to be
watching our alien caravan.
to a greatness, like the ooze of oil crushed
O Alouette, O
Alouette, Alouette, Alouette,
. . . nor can foot
feel, being shod.
Up, up and around we climbed. Someday it seemed we'd get to
the stars. Finally we reached the top, ground to a stop and
all jumped out with our cameras. We looked over the ledge
and watched the other cars coming, a slow line of twin
glaring stars. One of them stalled and progress was halted.
People looked at their watches and cursed and offered vain
suggestions. From far above we watched the car being pulled
to the side. "Oh, what a joke - it's that crazy little
Nash". . . . "Hurry, the bomb will be going off soon".
The procession continued. We looked down, watching, stamping
our feet and blowing our hands. Someone suggested climbing a
little higher. We followed like sheep, clutching flashlamps
and cameras in our cold, insensible fingers. We could see
those in front of us silhouetted against the sky. There is
something about seeing a line of people, single file,
walking along the skyline, that makes a person pause.
I slipped and clutched a creosote bush and gasped. Sprawling
on the ground with my feet dangling over the edge, I looked
down. There was no bottom . . . just sheer cliff. And then
huge silver undulations below me stretching on and over the
horizon. I felt nauseated. Someone trod on my hand. I yelped
like a dog. They helped me to my feet and, shivering, I went
on. We reached the peak. They called it Dante's View Point.
I started like one who is awakened by
force; and, having risen erect, I moved my rested eyes
around, and looked steadfastly to know this place in which
I was. True is it, that I found myself upon the brink of
the dolorous Valley of the Abyss, which gathers thunder of
endless wailings. It was so dark, profound, and cloudy,
that fixing my look upon the bottom, I there discerned
Some science professor stood up on a rock and raised his
voice. "Can anyone tell me why Dante's
View Point got its name? Nobody here an English
major?" There was no answer.
let us descend into the blind world here below", began the
poet all pale; "I will be first, and thou shalt be second". And I, who had remarked his
colour, said, "How shall I come, when thou fearest, who art
wont to be my strength in doubt?"
And he to me: "The
anguish of the people who are here below on my face bepaints
that pity, which thou takest for fear. Let us go; for the
length of the way impels us."
we settled ourselves on the rocks, like some vast covey of
birds alighting to rest. They talked in whispers and looked
at watches. I looked out above the precipice and saw the sky
and the outlined shapes of heads. The moon was hung before
me and the stars, her children, ran round her.
With how sad steps, O moon,
though climbst the skies
How silently, and with how wan a face . . .
they call virtue there ungratefulness?
There was a faint flush of dawn in the sky. The
flashlights were turned off one by one but it
was still dark and lonely.
We waited some time.
When it happened, I stood stunned. For suddenly
there was light. Surely it had illuminated the
whole world? For I felt it even behind me. It
was a thousand times brighter than the light of
day. We could see mountain ranges, hundreds of
A sigh went up. People got to their feet,
cameras clicked, they shouted.
A red glow grew up, over there across the vast
desert. Above it hung the moon, silver with
diamond stars. The thing mushroomed and
mushroomed. I thought of Hiroshima, Nagasaki.
Cameras clicked and people laughed in
excitement. It was horrible. I got out my camera
and took a shot but someone joggled when I got
it into focus. The film didn't come out. We ran
back along the ledge to the cars and made for
camp and breakfast. The Nash was unstuck.
We watched from the car. The wind blew the
atomic cloud sideways and it streaked across the
desert like some monstrous pennant. The dawn
light was coming speedily now and the moon faded
and became a dull, lifeless ball in the sky. The
sound of the explosion came then . . . traveling
the forty miles from some spot in the Nevada
desert and the birds rose into the air with
fright. Everything was grey and ugly and cold. I
thought it was horrible but nobody else seemed
to . . . so I didn't say anything.
Alouette, Alouette, O
fan fan faron.
17; awarded Phelan Literary Prize;
published in Reed, San Jose
State College, May 1956.
See also Family and
Mosaic; Gandhi; BBC recording of many voices 'Talking of Gandhiji',
my father's voice being one of these; Death
Valley Incident; Family Album;
Halbert Harold Holloway, The Woman,
the Sun, the Flowers and the Courage; Sir James Roberts; My England (in progress); Morris Dances of England; Nigel
Foxell, Amberley Village; The Joy of the
Bicycle; Richard Ben Holloway, Together Let Us Sweetly Live;
Jonathan Luke Holloway, Home Birth
Can Be An Option; Holmhurst
St Mary; Mother Agnes Mason,
C.H.F.; Rose Lloyds, Rose's Story;
and Solomon; How to Make
Cradles and Libraries; Hazel Oddy, Martha's Supplication; Tangled
Tale; Oliveleaf Chronicle; Vita
UMILTA WEBSITE || OLIVELEAF WEBSITE
|| JULIAN OF NORWICH,
TEXT AND CONTEXTS, WEBSITE || BIRGITTA OF SWEDEN,
REVELATIONES, WEBSITE || CATALOGUE AND PORTFOLIO
(HANDCRAFTS, BOOKS ) || BOOK REVIEWS || BIBLIOGRAPHY || FLORIN
WEBSITE ©1997-2019 JULIA