In 2001, the Washington Post sent a reporter “out west” to bestow the dubious title of “Armpit of America” on some unsuspecting western town. The crown ultimately went to Battle Mountain, Nevada, a rural ranching and mining community and….the land of my birth. Now, some folks say he might have had his reasons, namely, the glowing “BM” emblazoned in white rock on the side of a prominent hill, a forever peeling and slightly run-down main street, and finally, the SHELL sign at the local gas station with the burned out S. It took time for the excitement to die down, but one curious pronouncement was that the town was “in the midst of a harsh and uninviting wilderness.”
Sometimes we observe a world filled with illusion, but for me, that town will always be a place of childhood wonder.
If you climb to the top of the town’s water tower and look around, you will see only deep desert basins and towering mountain ranges for hundreds of miles in every direction. It is a country inhabited by piercing blue skies, long white cloud formations and formidable winds, all set in the middle of a dense sagebrush steppe. On hot, windy days, massive dust devils appear on the desert floor beneath the mountain peaks, and as the warm air rises, the surrounding cool air flows in and too rises, spinning madly in a clockwise flow. These were the backdrop to our forays out into the desert when we were young, staying with my Basque grandmother, each evening recounting our adventures with lizards and baby cottontails, sleek coyotes and once a huge badger, digging deep into the earth. We feasted on fried chicken, tender greens and leek soup, all from her garden. “Is berry good,” she would say in her broken English, her green-grey eyes sparkling.
I live far away now, and often go out into the evening to look up at the mountains like we did back then. After dinner, running barefoot through the wet grass, looking up at the dark shapes against the night sky. It was, as she said….good.