Walking down the Las Vegas strip, somewhere between the Bellagio fountains and the older, doomed casinos to the north, among the fat men in t-shirts and women in skirts twenty years too young for them, among the grinning shysters and the tired homebound wage-slaves, I saw an angel. The sheer ramrod force of Vegas can make you tired and emotional, even if you've eaten nothing and drunk only water, avoided the gaming tables altogether and dodged all the touts for all the other attractions. Intensity is key in Vegas and it never lets up, not ever, not for a second and I can entirely believe that I was hallucinating. My angel was following me and I only saw her when I turned to take a picture of the neon behind me. She gave me a playful smile and waggled her wings. I was shocked, which evidently amused her and she winked at me as she walked past, white head-feathers dancing against the rapacious bars of the lights all around us. She was all in white, cape, wings, head-dress, long gloves, leotard, slippers and all. For a moment, I thought about a picture, but it seemed somehow churlish. It seemed that somehow a photograph might prove or disprove the hallucination and so destroy the moment. So instead I did what everyone does in Vegas when their angel walks by, they ignore her completely and head for their glittering, glittering doom.


Whale Watching in the Desert

The casino is an ocean with tables bobbing like buoys on its gentle swell. As each decisive card is dealt, or ball comes to rest, or dice tumble, heads and hands rise or fall in the way that gulls stick out their wing feathers to stabilise themselves as a wave passes by. Slot machines sparkle and jingle like motes of sunlight on the moving water. A craps table makes a breaker of hands waving, people leaping winners and losers alike yawking like gulls scattered from the wave crest. The croupier hides in the rising face of the wave, reaching out to scoop the loosings like a lurking shark. Two men in black breeze through, making ripples, parting the prey. Orcas. Whale killers. Eyes follow them, perhaps from those who cling to the bobbing buoy tables, too terrified and exhausted to swim away. Other eyes like those of great lolling sealions hauled out watch indifferently and throw more free food and drink down their stroked throats.

The whale comes. We cannot see it but heads turn by some instinct and make a path of gazes across the floor. The heads of the queue for some bar imported from New York or Paris swirl as the whale passes them, past the deferential nodding of the security at the head of the line. The gulls twitter and crane, looking to see if the whale has left any tasty detritus behind it. Two pretty girls, all neons and frills, are pulled from the line by the passing wake and gather to the whale's breast like pilot fish.

On the strip, I see whalesign again. In one moment, groups of people burst chatting from a casino, wowing and tutting and laughing. The whale has breached here. A stretch limo glides to a halt outside, waits for a moment. The driver opens the door, waits. His lady attendant waits too, with a tray of champagne harpoons. The man's ear jabbers and they both get back in and row away across the tossing swell of the strip. The whale is not leaving. The casino has speared the beast and is trying to inflate it with hot air and comps. But it's fierce and young and not yet wasted enough to miss the jeopardy that faces it. It breaks free.

I follow the whale for an hour or so, my cash and credit card are my muscles and my body is my boat. Both soon tire of following the whale into deeper and more turbulent waters. I give up the pursuit for today and row back home.


Jetlag and Recession

As I always do on West Coast time, I woke at 3am for the first few days in Vegas so that when the sun finally came up, I was well into my own day. The window of my room faced the low mountains on the right and the freeway on the left. The sun came up through a palm tree on my left, and throughout the dawn I watched the regression in the mountains on my right. On the sunward side, the hills were a flat line, etched with the glow of the sun. On my right, I watched as the sun picked out the faces of the valleys rising as it did sideways on to them across my vision. The secrets of regression were laid bare: the way that the first valley is lit by the sun, and the second is lit a little less, but then is tinted by the reflection of the unseen rear face of the first. The sky is dark behind but also lit by other reflections, so that the regression is not a series of grey tones, but a series of graded tones of all kinds of dawn colours washed to the palest pastels on those ordinary shades of grey. But the finest recession pictures of all are monotones, right? It struck me: that is not quite true. They are not monograde. Each line of regression is a subtle grade of tones so that a regression picture with a classic 14 shades of grey could have even more lines of regression because each one can subtly walk back from the tone at the line of the previous mountain to another half tone, cheating the eye. Colour and photographic theorists will disagree I'm sure.


Steel Wool

Where it touches the water the sleepy steel-wool wind sands the brass-rippled river free of its smooth shimmer. There is lemon-yellow metal lying on the flooded fields between the two rivers. The sun hides in the hedgerow, slyly slinking away, abandoning the day that it has failed to warm to a night of frosty daggers, creeping in with the growing shadows to cut down the last soldiers of summer and autumn. The fallen leaves turn to iced bronze, beaten copper and frozen blood, to be shattered and trampled. Within a few weeks they will have collapsed into a brown blanket. A kestrel stands on a post, calculating that I am too cold to catch it and so it will not expend precious calories by flying away. The little hunter – not so little now – is not treated with the same contempt as he trots into view, soaking wet and not caring one jot about the cold or the perfect mirror of the water that he has just shattered after another joyful plunge. After all, if the near-still wind can break the surface of the water, why shouldn't he. I throw his stick back at the glimmering mirror.


The Earth worn to its bones.

Australia is old. Its interior has been rinsed by long ages of sparse desert rain until the nutrients are ground from the earth. Its river beds are as ancient as the abyss. Even in the fertile East the forests look and feel old and worn. Even the mountains of the East are worn to nubs a few thousand feet high. Barely a bump for what is effectively an entire continent. The trees of those forests are grey scented ghosts brushed with silvers and grubby yellows. Their trunks are bleached white where the bark peels away because in these forests the earth is not renewed year on year by falling leaves, it is maintained on life support by the gradual fall of strips of bark, years upon years. An entire wilderness laid back to the Earth by fire is nothing more than in invigorating body scrub to this land. When the sun grinds through the thin needles of the trees, they grow white. The carpet on the ground is pale too. The creeks, when they hold water at all, are clear and bronze like an old statue of water laid gently on the sleeping ground. That ghostly backdrop makes the gorgeous metallic blue-green of a butterfly a thing not unlike a fever-dream. The glinting call of a bird draws the eye to a bullet of gold or blue or red or lime green. Black trees also stop the eye, some natural, some ripped in half by lightening. Scrape back the vegitation and you are through to the bones of the Earth in an instant. These phantom forests hold a shadow of menace too. This land is so sparse that predators have evolved to waste no time on long chases of plump prey. The predators here are tiny and deathly efficient spiders and snakes.


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