Desert Impressions, Written & Photographed

I met Bill Witherspoon a full decade ago when he hired me to join his company, Sky Factory. Before I knew it, I had a plane ticket to Boise, Idaho, where Bill met our party in a GMC truck covered with so much dust that it looked like the bones of an old horse.

Our party drove in a new rental, a spotless black Tahoe, following the dust cloud that Bill’s truck left until we crossed into Oregon, picked up groceries at Burns, and continued over to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, our base camp.

On the first day of our deep desert excursion, after what seemed like hours of driving at five miles per hour over tire-busting boulders, he finally signaled to stop.

It was baking hot outside, with nothing but miles of open land around us. The faint off-road track that we had followed all morning stretched to a scorched and endless horizon. I considered myself a nature lover, but this was, well . . . the desert.

Bill hopped out of his old truck and pointed to the towering rock rim over our left flank, then he pointed to a bank of clouds drifting overhead. “The same laws of fluid dynamics that gave the rock rim its shape also form the clouds overhead,” he said.

He had hardly finished the sentence before the white clouds dissolved into the clear blue sky without a single trace. At that moment, I realized I was with someone who saw way beyond appearances. Bill Witherspoon sought the bone marrow of the elemental.

His statement was a precise and probing observation about the laws of physics that govern the desert ecology. The winds that hollow out the rock rims over eons are the same laws of physics that streamline the evanescent clouds at a moment’s notice. The juxtaposition of these colossal time scales—solid rock rims and diaphanous water vapor—took my breath away.
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