“The Panamint Range” by Kirsty MacKay

“Rome rhythm” by Lisa Boardwine, Oil/Cold Wax on Panel, 12 x 12.

I awoke at about 4 a.m. with salt-water-swollen eyelids. My comforter was ruffled up around my neck; its ridges looked like low-lying mountains. I imagined Death Valley’s ranges as black with blue streaks in their fissures.  Maybe I was in a windswept valley, surrounded by clay hills. I was frozen in my bed, only breathing. To stir meant relenting to a new day without Marie. Frozen was safer. I was not yet able to say infidelity or dissolution. For now, there was only kick-in-the-gut mornings and crying on people’s wicker furniture until they edged me out. 

I had really wanted to go to Death Valley in the spring of  ’05 for “the Bloom of the Century.” The New York Times had promised a “Technicolor Season,” due to massive rains in Southern California. However, sometime after planning the trip but before departing for the desert, Marie told me she was falling for someone else. I screamed at her over the phone to cancel because if we went on this trip, “We would be like divorced people on holiday!” 

She said, “I stand to lose around $600.” 

“Cancel! I don’t care anymore!” 

So the morning I woke up in my illusion of darkened hills embracing me, I was still debating on going it alone. I even researched whether a bus goes from Las Vegas into the national park. I had done things alone before. Five years prior, I moved up from California to Oregon to be with Marie in Portland. I had a sick moment of picturing myself heart-broken in Las Vegas trying to find a bus out of there.

I stared wide-eyed at some realities of my life as the contours and colors of my bedcovers defined themselves in the morning light. I needed my family, my friends, my acquaintances and familiar street corners. I needed my mother to make me a cup of tea and my father to put the tearing grief into exact words and help me to detach. 

Marie arranged for her ticket miles to be claimed later. She re-routed my own ticket to my parents’ house, at a penalty. I spared my heart the telescopic mirage of having while not having—traversing a valley of poppies and primrose with a woman steadily disappearing in plain sight. I missed the Hundred Year Bloom and surfed the net instead for wildflowers of the Mojave Desert. I yearn to go to Death Valley National Monument in person and see a Mojavea breviflora in the flesh. 


Kirsty MacKay is a live storyteller who shares ancient stories from the Ohlone people of the South Bay. She has been writing poetry for roughly three decades while dealing with chronic issues of depression and anxiety. She considers herself to be a fairly recovered woman who remains, nonetheless, vulnerable.