Snake Oil

The Hunter - not so small now - finds something in the grass. A scent that makes him unusually wary. He pads at a plantain. The high-summer, high-noon sky is brilliant white with clouds, but overlaid with a herd of deep grey-bellied rain-cows begging to be milked. The grey has turned the river to matt black oil rippled with silver. The flowers of the riverbank are reflected and inverted. Purple loosestrife hangs like lolling dogs tongues. Golden ragwort flowers, swarms of starry teasels and a late scattering of forget-me-nots are arranged like fireworks over the black water. I turn back and see the grass slither, sinuously, though I do not see the snake.


Burning Teasels

The teasels are enjoying the rain, filling the riverbanks with their stiff, spikes. Their tiny flowers bloom in a lavender precession over their oval heads, so that they look like so many match-heads struck in slo-mo purple flames. 


49.7 °Celsius

A man places an instrument on the ground and stares at his watch. On the distant edge of the gravel desert, indistinct in the dusty heat-haze, tall structures are dabbed onto the sky like a child's uneven drawing of derricks. At the top of the haze-waved towers waste gas burns away like an orange rip in the hot grey-blue sky. The tear reveals the hidden magma of heaven concealed behind the sky from horizon to horizon, making a furnace to beat down on the Earth. I pull at my plastic water bottle.. A dust devil dances in front of me, twisting grit from the concrete into the sky. It is just a little taller than me, and just a little broader. A dozen eyes watch it stroll past. Someone makes a sign of warding of some sort. Someone else scoffs. The dust gathers into spirals within spirals within its inverted cone. The Navajo say that if a dust devil spins clockwise, it is a good spirit, if it spins the other way it is malign. A huge dragonfly skims past, flying in from some distant tiny spec of water, seeking out the pool that had gathered yesterday beneath a leaking air-conditioner. Today the water is gone and the dragonfly skims around the stained sand, settles sadly and I imagine its regret at its fatal errand. A stiff wind starts up, strong and hard, as hot as a hair dryer. The wind causes the dust devil to vanish into the sky, its tail of dust curling to the left and vanishing. There is shade in the form of a shelter, but it has been invaded by hot glare and conquered with these new, hot gusts of wind. Heat rises from the concrete underneath our feet. Men in brilliant red coveralls sit in the faint respite, talking Arabic, Spanish, Hindustani and some English. Two of us are waiting for a ride to some arcane installation in the desert. The rest are taking smoke-breaks. Their cigarette smoke is sucked up and scattered by the greedy wind. The man grumbles, picks up his instrument and switches it off.

"Fifty?" Demands one of the men with his cigarette dangling. "Fifty, right, feels like?"

"Forty nine point seven," says the man very precisely with a sigh of dissappointment. The other men shake their heads.

"Fifty," they say, pointing with their cigarettes to each other as though signing an agreement in smoke and ashes. Who would let fate cheat them if they have to suffer this heat? Fifty degrees it is. The man refuses to write fifty in his log.

The burn off continues in the distance. The falling sun is a laser-cut hole in the sky. The concrete is like white-hot charcoal. Even in this heat, men crave their smoke and ashes. They draw as one. The points of their cigarettes are cool points inside the furnace.


Bucket List Desert Sunrise

The sunrise comes fat and red and perfect. Tiny clouds hide its face like a veil or a strange moko. It settles above the horizon for a moment, gazes down on the flat desert and within fifteen minutes has throttled-up to a merciless molten gold which stings even though it is not yet six am. It is strange to think that if I sit down in this one place and do not move, it will kill me before it falls below the opposite horizon.


Desert Camp

Hot dust like fresh gunsmoke, old tobacco, smoking oriental spices, a puff of sewage.