Mid to late summer in the American Southwest can be tumultuous, as the “monsoons” encroach on the land. The word “monsoon” usually conjures images of frequent, heavy downpours over dense greenery in exotic, eastern lands. But, the monsoons in reference here are those of the Southwestern United States and so a different image is required. Our typical summer monsoon spans July and early August and cycles much like this:
Hot & sunny morning. Hotter, and somewhat clouded mid-day. Stupid-hot, windy & cloudy afternoon accompanied by sixteen drops of “rain” which evaporate prior to or upon collision with the earth. Back to hotter & somewhat calm evening. Hot overnight. Repeat for six weeks. This is common of most days during the season. But once in a great while the engorged clouds are caught by a wind with strength enough to force a breach in the barrier of our mountain-surround and pushed into the valley. When this happens, the power of water discharged on parched earth can be an awesome and frightening exhibition. Even so, for most desert dwellers, it’s a welcome and even exciting time. Rain! It’s rarer than gold in these parts.
And so, in that context, with the current monsoon season waning quickly, and “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas lending atmosphere (Seriously, I think I’m gonna recommend mood music for all future posts, à la wine recommendations to complement your meal!), I present part one of two guest posts by Scott Nadeau, of theDarkwaterPress:
Maple Street. Henderson, Nevada.
The house in which my working class family resided during the 1980’s was elevated slightly by a small hill. Across the street were similar looking houses, full of similar looking families, but without the same slope from this hill, these houses were not elevated in such a way. This proved, for my siblings and me, to be quite advantageous once we were old enough to acquire skateboards, bicycles, and other wheeled devices. With a not insignificant amount of courage, we would sit on our skateboards and speedily descend our steeped driveway, making a sharp left turn at the driveways base onto the sidewalk, attempting to develop enough momentum to roll all the way to the end of the block. A few of our more adventurous friends would attempt to wildly place lawn chairs atop their skateboards and descend in a less safe, but definitely more exciting manner. Another advantage this same small hill provided was discovered when a rainstorm would pass through the neighborhood. Our side of the street would gather more runoff and an instant rapid of gutter water would become the source of innumerable games, including races of found objects hastily made into competition speed boats. A storm in the Nevada desert is rare and therefore always a source of welcomed excitement… as well as a certain amount of destructive possibilities…
This hill upon which our house was configured rose steeply in the front, flattened out in the middle to accommodate the houses construction, and then rose steeply again in the back yard. Where a small patch of grass ended in the back yard, the terrain rose more dramatically and became an ascending slope of dirt bordered by a wooden fence. This hill of dirt became the settlement of a complex configuration of hand carved tunnels, roadways, and cave like structures, forming the city that my brother and I, along with various friends, began to develop. This urban network was a master planned community where the drama of action figures, hot wheels, and boyish imagination could unfold each day that we weren’t occupied with some other undertaking elsewhere in the neighborhood. With our extensive collection of plastic Star Wars action figures, spaceships, toy monster trucks, as well as more primitive objects of found stones and twigs, there was never a moment when there wasn’t something to build or rebuild.
The ongoing operation of building and rebuilding was at times a necessity of course, for while we were out playing in the gutter during a rainstorm, our craftily constructed urban complex was being washed away in the deluge. While it may have seemed devastating initially, we soon discovered that the overwhelming destruction only provided us new opportunity to rebuild with more vigor and imagination. With this new discovery, these natural disasters became quite desirable. Due to the long stretches of xeric conditions that are always a part of living in a desert climate, however, they never seemed to occur with enough frequency. It wasn’t long before we began staging our own disasters. A common garden hose became a perfect storm. The destruction could now be planned, and we were no longer simply laborers maintaining a habitation. We were gods who had acquired powers of both creation and destruction, so we acted.
This became a common theme for my brother and me, and it soon moved indoors. In our shared bedroom, on a day that we for some reason or another were barred from playing outdoors, our bucket full of Lego’s provided the building blocks for a similar type of city that we would spend hours building simply for the pleasure of destroying by a staged earthquake, or possibly the next world war.
My family eventually moved away from Maple Street. My parents didn’t think it was the best neighborhood in which to reside. It was an older neighborhood with smaller houses and configured somewhat centrally within the city of Henderson, complete with the lower incomes and bad reputation that accompanies this combination. We moved to a neighborhood, still in Henderson, known as Section 27. This neighborhood was only a few miles from Maple Street, but it was markedly different. Section 27 was Henderson’s most remote neighborhood. It was separated from the rest of town by a circumscribing stretch of undeveloped desert. The houses in our new neighborhood were all individually custom built and the roads were unpaved. There were no gutters, only desert washes.
Not far beyond the neighborhood’s last dirt road rose the River Mountains. These mountains formed the most southeast border of the Las Vegas Valley, the metropolitan region in which the City of Henderson is configured. I was no longer closely surrounded by an urban environment, and unrelated or not, my days of building and destroying civilizations ended. I made new friends and spent my time accompanying them in the endeavors they had been undertaking for years already, having grown up in this neighborhood that was brand new to me. We occupied our time roaming the desert’s mountains, exploring new terrain or hunting for lizards, snakes, and other vermin. Time spent doing this led us to a number of interesting discoveries such as abandoned mines and mountainous cliffs that provided rock climbing opportunities. My new life in a more remote, rural like location, caused me to transform from a builder of civilizations to a hunter and explorer.