It is that time in winter when it is more cold than not. Snow beneath boots makes that squeaky sound—you will know this sound if you’ve heard it and you’ll know how it feels to walk on the snow when it’s this cold; it’s not quite slippery—there is something that adheres. It is not crunchy—that came earlier. It is like salt. Like walking on salt.
There is something special about the below zero cold. It is like the 100+ heat. Neither of these are ideal conditions for human beings, yet we are able to adapt to them, provided we have the right clothing and shelter. It’s sort of like beating the odds.
In Death Valley, in late September, the waitress at Panamint Springs told us that lots of Northern Europeans like to visit in the summer and hike in the hottest temps. They like to say they did it. We drank beer on the porch of the restaurant and watched the bats eat the bugs in the spotlight. The waitress told us about how the desert blooms in March. For one day or maybe two. A guy in cowboy boots and hat pushed a sidewinder off the sidewalk with his stick—the woman with him clapped and laughed.
The guidebook said to go to the sand dunes early in the morning because it would soon be too hot. So we went there in the morning, just after sun rise. The dunes were covered in the tracks of mice, bugs, spiders, sidewinders. I only had one water bottle with me. Not enough.
We walked directly into the dunes. Up and over. I was stupid and wore Tevas—soon the sand was too hot on my feet. I was running out of water. The sun was getting higher. Sweat dried instantly and left behind white, salty stains. We knew better than to stay too long.
Back in the car and drive to Zabriski Point. That’s where the tour bus was parked and people milling around, taking photos. I needed a photo to send to my best friend. She and I had taken a class together in grad school in which the professor was obsessed with the film Zabriski Point. Here’s me. Ha ha.
Back in the car.
Badwater. The lowest point in the hemisphere. It is way below sea level. Over 100 feet below? Something like that. It is a salt flat, surrounded by mountains but there is also water mixed with the salt. There are small pools of salty water. You might say that at Badwater there is nothing. But that is not right. There is salt, and water, and mountains, and sky. There is me and my body, made of salt and of water.
I walked out as far as I could go without going too far. I was surrounded by white but I was not cold.