10: Approaching Endgame [25 April 2013]

I've left a lot of places, but I've never had such a strong feeling that this is one that I'm truly leaving forever. Even if circumstances bring me by again, it's not going to be the same place that I've known in the past few months. New tarmac is being laid next to old packed dirt and sand tracks that point to out of the way spots where I've found surprising pockets of bizarre and beautiful terrain. Someday, those will be cities.

Footsteps last surprisingly long in the desert; blowing sand might fill the holes we've left, but there's a hard crust over the earth that takes impressions well. The ground is dry, and the dust never truly settles.

There was a night when a thunderstorm broke just before I fell asleep, and I've promised myself never to miss a storm if I could help it, so I pulled on a jacket and stumbled outside. The storms here are more about the wind than rain; it's a sustained wall of gusts that makes the air feel like a dense, solid mass, filled with sand that blasts by as a wall of needles. There's water falling, but it's a negligible light mist, and nothing at all like the torrential buckets that Pittsburgh gives. The lightning isn't the same, either; rather than thick forks that flash for an instant, there's a nest of glowing hair-thin tangles that almost seem to creep in slow motion across the sky before fading.

I walked to a footbridge that crosses from one housing compound to its neighbor and stood on top of the railing, leaning into the wind with my eyes closed and letting the wall of sand push against me. There's nothing to stop the wind out here, and I've entertained thoughts that the sand that scrapes my skin has flown from places much more distant than the nearest pile of construction rubble.

A few weeks ago, we had a day of thick fog that settled over the peninsula overnight. The fog is as dense as the wind when it happens; there are never pockets of clarity or visible wisps. We drove to an area just north of the city that's known for an island of mangroves, a strange chunk of marshland that occupies a crescent cutting in from the coastline. The wind that day was so strong I couldn't hear anything except my shirt collar slapping the side of my neck; the ground alternated between crumbling shale that cut at the sides of my feet whenever I slipped in my sandals and soft, brackish-smelling sand that still had old tide beneath it.

Today was the last day of class this semester, and I'm down to the home stretch; I have two final critiques to run, plus an exposition of work to present the day after, and then I get to decide the academic fate of the 34 troopers who stuck by me these past few strange months.

picture from 10picture from 10picture from 10picture from 10picture from 10