From the old countries, exotic to each other, to a land foreign to all but its sons and daughters… From Home, to a place to pass innumerable nights… From the bustling east–by rail, wagon, horse, and their own blistered feet–to the spirit-testing and body-breaking west they came.
From their proud, stern fatherlands they stepped with heads held high and legs atremble. From their dear, sweet motherlands they weaned themselves, and there and here folks wept. For fortune they forged toward the new frontier, as to the new world their forefathers had fled oppression. Or so the textbooks tell.
Are anyone’s reasons ever really two-dimensional? Should anyone’s reasons ever be oversimplified? As we are complexly human, so were they, and multifaceted beings must be allowed to have multifaceted motivations. Many might have come for solitude, challenges, fame, for adventure. For that which drives us now must have driven many then.
They came, settled, labored, dreamed. They moved, stayed, and sought elusive wealth. They worked hard and took pride in the work they did. They lived, loved, dispersed. Oh, how they struggled. And they perished, often tragically. It seems they sought so much—maybe unwittingly.
Oh, the subtleties and secrets of our seekings…
En route from Saxton, back to the City of Contradictions, Surtch Pherther stopped for a breather at middle-of-nowhere-in-the-remoteness Outpost Inn. Under the fuel canopy, he switched off Escape Artist on the slowly shifting sand of a shallow drift. At the foot of the nearest gas pump, a huddle of small tumbleweeds seemed to cower, maybe stricken with fears of flame and of being crushed.
Into the noise void left by the shut off bike, a scene-typical sound rushed without turbulence, like hot oil: that strange, high sizzle that often accompanies sweltering wastes. An insect chorus? Faint crying of expanding sand and stones? Maybe a several-source small symphony. Or just the ringing in Surtch’s ears.
He grabbed a cold drink and slumped onto the bench of a weathered picnic table in the shade of a juniper. The day, barely past noon, was already over 100 Fahrenheit, and shade in such heat can serve only the psyche, never the body.
Yet Surtch had cut his teeth on desolate terrain—in its extremes his personality was minted. He’d tried to dissect the enchantment, but it defied; tried to understand his attraction, but he defied. Perhaps that was why he persisted—for understanding.
Religious friends and family had often said that some things simply weren’t meant to be understood. Over and over and over again, Surtch had tried to subscribe to religion, but the publication always seemed to get lost in the mail. Maybe they were right about this… If it would risk his enchantment to understand, he knew he’d rather remain a fool.
Nearby, next to their unbelievably overloaded bikes, three cyclists read and rested. Reticent though they were, Surtch succeeded in gathering that they were far—from their origin, from their destination, hell, from a city of any consequence. Yet maybe not from a suitable truth, for stitched in Hebrew on one bike’s panniers was Proverbs 9:6 “Forsake the foolish, and live; and go in the way of understanding.”
Common motivations, even the drive for adventure, might fade, the unessential of them even becoming unfashionable. But the desire for a suitable truth?… That could be one of humankind’s common denominators and the base to which all other motivations must be anchored.
A suitable truth: which isn’t necessarily a tailored truth or a religion to conform to one’s “sinful” ways, but a truth that penetrates the filters of one’s experience—a truth that makes sense. For an unsuitable truth, however eager one might be for its absorption, will never take.
That’s a Proverb I can embrace.
Eloquently done. But you left us hanging as to the whereabouts of the murals. Downtown SLC?
Ry Austin says
Though it bears a different name in these tales, the little town of murals is Ely, Nevada.
In the early ’80s their precious metals mining economy went bust (a common story and that of so many towns in the American West). The town council scrambled to decide what the hell they were going to do to survive: They opted to aim for tourism dollars by celebrating their history and by exploiting their fascinating mining-related assets.
The murals represented here (some of my favorites, and some of the better ones, I think) are just a few of those in town. Despite being nowhere near an Interstate or a larger city, Ely seems to have done alright so far with its post-bust approach.
I’m glad it seems to have worked. Small towns like that, their people and their history, are the fabric of America.