Pebbles and People

The desert near Bouse, Arizona

If you visited our home, you’d see a basket of stones on the bathroom floor, a flat dish with variegated pebbles on the kitchen counter, and another container of rock specimens among the plants by the window. Rocks carry tales of their creation. Hank and I love to notice them as we travel. We like to speculate on what geologic processes shaped the scenery we’re passing.

Recently we visited cousins Darlene and Vernon at their winter home in tiny Bouse, Arizona. A dry riverbed, Bouse Wash, courses behind their RV campsite. On a map, we traced the wash from its beginning in a mountain range to where it emptied into the Colorado River. Sometimes during rainstorms, it fills to a depth of ten feet or more with raging water and has even been known to flood their RV park.

Darlene and Vernon led us across the sandy wash and up the other side, where dry tributaries snaked through low desert depressions. I was amazed at the variety of pebbles beneath our feet; their differing colors and textures. Once they were part of the eroding mountains that encircled the desert in every direction. Yet here they were, individual and beautiful, shaped by weather and water and brought together in a new place, part of a new landscape.

They remind me of the people we met as we journeyed homeward through Nevada, eastern California, and central Oregon. In one Western town, too small to support a restaurant, we found a deli-general store. The proprietor was a tall, dark-skinned young man of Arabic ancestry. He spoke only a few words of English. Although the deli was closed on Sunday, we purchased sandwiches from the refrigerated case. He smiled and gestured toward the tables, inviting us to sit there to eat our sandwiches.

Along Highway 95 in Nevada, we drove through crumbling mining towns such as Goldfield, once the largest community in the state. A few people still live there in mobile homes or small frame buildings, though the streets are studded with the ruins of stately buildings. With only cactus and Joshua trees for vegetation, every discard that anyone has ever thrown away is still visible. Another tiny town, Mina, also seems to struggle for existence, but an oddity in that desert land caught our eye. A large cabin cruiser, with an entry cut through its sides, opened into a restaurant enterprise, so new that the kitchen wasn’t completely set up. We sat down while a wizened little lady took our orders. The only other people in the room were a short, curly-haired Army retiree from South Carolina and his new wife, a tatooed, very friendly buxom blond. In soft Southern drawls, with many “Yes, sirs” and “No, ma’ams”, they told us they lived in a nearby ghost town with a population of five and a grand view of the mountains. They’d come to town to do their laundry, since they had no electricity at home.

In eastern California’s ranching country, we stopped at a remodeled drive-through diner operated by a young couple from Thailand. The man spoke fractured English. His wife had a better command of the language and told us she’d cooked for six years in France before going to San Diego. We wondered but didn’t ask how they’d come to be probably the only Thai people in that vast cattle country.

I carried home some desert pebbles from Bouse Wash to add to my collection. The people we met, representatives of the world’s humanity, I carried home only in memory. Pebbles and people, all of them remind me of what a wide and wonderful world we live in.