Show Don't Tell / Adjectives & Verbs




From Desert Solitaire
by Edward Abbey, 1968


The majority of living things retreat before the stunning glare and heat of midday. A snake or lizard exposed to the noon sun for more than ten minutes would die; having no internal cooling mechanism the reptiles must at all costs avoid extremes of temperature, especially in the desert where the temperature on the surface of the ground is much higher than it is in the air a few feet above. The snakes therefore seek shade; waiting until sundown to come out to hunt for supper. The insect-eating lizards dart from shelter to shelter never lingering for more than a few moments in the open blaze.

The other creatures do the same. Like myself, they stay in the shade as much as possible. To conserve bodily moisture and energy the rodents remain in their burrows during the day. Scorpions and spiders go underground for the duration. Deer, antelope, bighorn sheep, bobcats, foxes and coyotes all shade up beneath rock ledges, oakbrush, pinyon and juniper trees, till the sun goes down.

Even the red ants keep to the inside of their evil nests at noon, though they will come spilling out eager to fight if riled with a stick - I've tried it, naturally.

Flowers curl up. Leaves fold inward. Everything shrinks, contracts, shrivels somewhere a desiccated limb on an ancient dying cottonwood tree splits off from the trunk, and the rending fibers make a sound like the shriek of a woman.

The birds are muted, inactive. Now and then I can hear the faraway call of a mourning dove—a call that always sounds far away. A few gray desert sparrows fly from one tree to the next, stop there, do not reappear. The ravens and magpies stay in the shade; the former up on the rimrock, the latter in the trees. The owls, of course, and the nighthawks keep to holes and crevices during the day.

Insect life, sparse to begin with on the open desert, diminishes to near total invisibility and inaudibility during the heat of the day, although at times, during the very hottest and stillest hour, you may hear the eerie ticking noise of a sun-demented cricket or locust, a small sad music that seems to have - like a Bach partita - a touch of something ageless, out of time, eternal in its primeval vibrations.

In this static period even the domestic livestock—horses, sheep, goats, cattle—have sense enough to take it easy, relaxing in the shade.Of all the featherless beasts, only man, chained by his self-imposed slavery to the clock, denies the elemental fire and proceeds as best he can about his business, suffering quietly, martyr to his madness. Much to learn.

Among the wild things only the hawks, vultures and eagles seem to remain fully active during the hottest days and hottest hours of the desert I have seen them circling and soaring far in the sky at high noon, dark wings against the blue, above the heat.

What are they doing up there in the middle of the sky at the apex of the day? I watch them for hour after hour with the naked eye and with binoculars and never see either hawk or eagle swoop and strike at such a time. And no wonder, for there’s precious little fresh meat abroad. Nor does the buzzard descend for lunch or make any effort of any kind. The hawks appear most frequently and most briefly, gliding overhead on some invisible stream in the air. The golden eagle does not come into sight often but stays longer than the hawk, floating toward the horizon in overlapping circles until out of sight.

The vulture or buzzard, master of soaring flight, is most common and most often seen. He stays aloft for hours at a time without ever stirring his long black white-trimmed wings, recognizable at a great distance by their dihedral inclination. Never in a hurry to get anywhere or do any-thing, an indolent and contemplative bird, he hovers on a thermal, rocking slightly, rising slowly, slips off, sails forward and upward without lifting a feather, primaries extended like fingers at his wingtips. He soars around and around in expanding spirals, lingering at a thousand feet above the landscape, bleak eyes missing nothing that moves below. Or maybe—who can be sure? - he is fast asleep up there dreaming of a previous incarnation when wings were only a dream. Still without a stroke the vulture rises higher, higher, in ever wider circles, until nothing can be seen of this gaunt, arrogant, repellent bird but the coal dark V-sign of his wings against the blue dome of heaven.

Around noon the heat waves begin flowing upward from the expanses of sand and bare rock. They shimmer like transparent, filmy veils between my sanctuary in the shade and all the sundazzled world beyond. Objects and forms viewed through this tremulous flow appear somewhat displaced or distorted, as a stick seems bent when half-immersed in water.


The great Balanced Rock floats a few inches above its pedestal supported by a layer of superheated air. The buttes, pinnacles and fins in the Windows area bend and undulate beyond the middle ground like a painted backdrop stirred by a draft of sir. The peaks of the Sierra La Sal—Mount Nass, Mount Tomaski, Mount Peale, Mount Tukuhnlkivats and the others—seem to melt into one another merging like cloud forms so that the profile of one mountain cannot be distinguished from that of another closer or farther away.

In the foreground the dwarf trees of pinyon pine and juniper waver like algae under water without, however, any of their their sharpness of detail. There is in fact no illusion of the sort called mirage, only the faint decepeption of motion where nothing is actually moving but the overheated air. You are not likely to see a genuine mirage on the high desert of canyon and mesa country, for that spectacle we must go west or southwest into the basin-and-range provinces of Arizona, Nevada, Southern California and Sonora. There the dry lake beds between the I parallel mountain ranges fill with planes of hot air which reflect sky and mountains in mirror fashion, creating the illusory lakes of blue water, the inverted mountains, the strange vision of men and animals walking through or upon water - Palestinian miracles.

Dehydration: the desert air sucks moisture from every pore. I take a drink from the canvas water-bag dangling near my head, the water cooled by evaporation. Noontime here is like a drug. The light is psychedelic, the dry air electric air narcotic. To me the desert is stimulating, exciting, exacting; I feel no temptation to sleep or to relax into occult dreams but rather an opposite effect which sharpens and heightens vision, touch, hearing, taste and smell. Each stone, each plant, each grain of sand exists in and for itself with a clarity that is undimmed by any suggestion of a different realm. Claritas, integritas, veritas. Only the sunlight holds things together. Noon is the crucial hour: the desert reveals itself nakedly and cruelly, with no meaning but its own existence.

My lone juniper stands half-alive, half-dead, the silvery wind-rubbed claw of wood projected stiffly at the sun. A single cloud floats in the sky to the northeast, motionless, a magical coalescence of vapor where a few minutes before there was nothing visible but the hot, deep, black-grained blueness of infinity.

Life has come to a standstill, at least for the hour. In this forgotten place the tree and I wait on the shore of time temporarily free from the force of motion and process and the surge toward - what? Something called the future? I am free, I am compelled to contemplate the world which underlies life, struggle, thought, ideas, the human labyrinth of hope and despair.

Through half-closed eyes, for the light would otherwise be overpowering, I consider the tree, the lonely cloud, the sandstone bedrock of this part of the world and pray - in my fashion - for a vision of truth. I listen for signals from the sun - but that distant music is too high and pure for the human ear. I gaze at the tree and receive no response. I scrape my bare feet against the sand and rock under the table and am comforted by their solidity and resistance. I look at the cloud.

. . .


The Origin of Baseball

Someone had been walking in and out
Of the world without coming
To much decision about anything.
The sun seemed too hot most of the time.
There weren't enough birds around
And the hills had a silly look
When he got on top of one.
The girls in heaven, however, thought
Nothing of asking to see his watch
Like you would want someone to tell
a joke - "Time," they'd say, "what's
That mean - time?" laughing with the edges
Of their white mouths, like a flutter of paper
In a madhouse. And he'd stumble over
General Sherman or Elizabeth B.
Browning, muttering "Can't you keep
Your big wings out of the aisle?" But down
Again, there'd be millions of people without
Enough to eat and men with guns just
Standing there shooting each other.

So he wanted to throw something
And he picked up a baseball.

Kenneth Patchen



420 Words, 57 Verbs!

Viceroy: An Autobiography

You and Jackie climb down the bank of the ditch into the milkweed, its hairy stalks bleeding sticky white syrup for the Monarchs. They rise silently around you, orange and black cinders from an invisible fire. Jackie knows the difference between Monarchs and Viceroys, the Viceroys being smaller and bitter tasting to the birds and not a butterfly at all, but a moth, an imposter. The Viceroy's tiny wings flap gracelessly in comparison to the MonarchÕs effortless flight. Only the hungry are fooled by such mimicry. You crawl panther-like through the willows, predatory, ready for mayhem, then transform into outlaws on the run from a posse, hiding, breathless, in the culvert under Harmony Road. A trickle of water dampens your knees, but you stay silent as the Foree boys, Mark and Steve, pass by with their new walkie talkies. Don't let them find you. Cars rattle overhead. You crawl on your stomach across the cool cement of the culvert, back into the ditch, which stretches all the way to Sonoma Heights School. Once there, you break free and sprint across the asphalt playground and scramble up the hill, tiny burrs digging into your socks, the loose scree spraying out from beneath your red Keds. You race past the sagebrush fort, past the power station, to the sand dune where you tried unsuccessfully to lose your glasses. (Dad, driving you back in the dark of night, screaming "you will find them!") In a year this will be gone. The city will burn the milkweed and fill in the ditch. The Monarchs never return. Jackie's dad is transferred, and they move to Ely. You go to junior high school, trudging across the railroad tracks with your clarinet, your patent leather lunch box made to look like a ladies purse, a copy of the Count of Monte Cristo to protect you from loneliness. You can no longer see without your glasses. You tell Pam Haberman to pick up the gum wrapper she threw on the earth. She says, "if you care so much, you pick it up." You don't. You graduate from high school. You graduate from college. You graduate from college again and again. You get married. You get divorced. You move to the city and live in an apartment far above the cars and the asphalt. You study lots of esoteric teachings, but still feel bereft of joy. Stumbling to work day after day, you wonder what happened. You know you are a Monarch, but inside, you feel like a Viceroy.

Lisa Thompson


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Edward Abbey

Abbey died on March 14, 1989 at the age of 62, in his hom e in Tucson, Arizona. His death was due to complications from surgery; he suffered four days of esophageal hemorrhaging, due to esophageal varices, a recurrent problem with one group of veins. Showing his sense of humor, he left a message for anyone who asked about his final words: "No comment." Abbey also left instructions on what to do with his remains: Abbey wanted his body transported in the bed of a pickup truck, and wished to be buried as soon as possible. He did not want to be embalmed or placed in a coffin. Instead, he preferred to be placed inside of an old sleeping bag, and requested that his friends disregard all state laws concerning burial. "I want my body to help fertilize the growth of a cactus or cliff rose or sagebrush or tree." said the message. For his funeral, Abbey stated "No formal speeches desired, though the deceased will not interfere if someone feels the urge. But keep it all simple and brief." He requested gunfire and bagpipe music, a cheerful and raucous wake, "[a]nd a flood of beer and booze! Lots of singing, dancing, talking, hollering, laughing, and lovemaking."

A 2003 Outside' article described how his friends honored his request:

The last time Ed smiled was when I told him where he was going to be buried," says Doug Peacock, an environmental crusader in Edward Abbey's inner circle. On March 14, 1989, the day Abbey died from esophageal bleeding at 62, Peacock, along with his friend Jack Loeffler, his father-in-law Tom Cartwright, and his brother-in-law Steve Prescott, wrapped Abbey's body in his blue sleeping bag, packed it with dry ice, and loaded Cactus Ed into Loeffler's Chevy pickup. After stopping at a liquor store in Tucson for five cases of beer, and some whiskey to pour on the grave, they drove off into the desert. The men searched for the right spot the entire next day and finally turned down a long rutted road, drove to the end, and began digging. That night they buried Ed and toasted the life of America's prickliest and most outspoken environmentalist.

From Wikipedia


Kenneth Patchen

Largely a self-taught writer, Kenneth Patchen never appeared to win widespread recognition from the professors at universities or many literary critics. As the New York Times Book Review noted, "While some critics tended to dismiss his work as naive, romantic, capricious and concerned often with the social problems of the 1930's, others found him a major voice in American poetry.... Even the most generous praise was usually grudging, as if Patchen had somehow won his place through sheer wrongheaded persistence." Read more...