Not Much to Look At

My dad’s 1991 GMC Jimmy squealed to an exhausted stop about three miles outside of town. I stared out the dusty backseat window at our chosen adventure for the day. It’s what the locals call “Saddleback Mountain” because of the way the hill seems to swoop inward in the middle. I can recall tales told from old residents to young about the “extinct volcano” and what violence it must have ensued on the native people of this land. Now I know that Saddleback was not in fact an extinct volcano, just a strange, red, taller than average hill close enough to see from the edge of town. At nine I was void of this disappointing knowledge and practically bursting with joy at what views awaited me atop this monstrosity of a desert destination.

My mother helped my younger sister Joannah out of the car and onto the sand. She was six years old, too excited to wipe the snot that constantly ran from her nose. My older sister, Hannah, waited impatiently for me to remove myself from her way. At eleven years old she would lead our trek, as she did most our adventures.

As we walked the few feet towards the base of our destination my dad looked down at me.

“You should’ve worn sleeves, Kiddo,” he says as his eyes drift to the tank top I chose that day, “your shoulders are going to burn.”

“Sorry Dad.”

I was not sorry. Nine-year-old’s do not care about sunburns. In fact, I craved any lasting effects this journey might have on me. I wanted to feel like an explorer, no matter the cost.

My mom scanned the perimeter of the mountain for a path we could take.

“Hey Dear,” she called to my dad, “did John say if there was some sort of path we could take?”

“Hmm no he didn’t mention anything like that,” his face hardened with concentration as he recalled the conversation with an elderly member of our church, “he just said it was a fun place to take the girls. I could call and ask him, but I doubt I have reception out here. Sorry Dear.”

My parents were always looking for adventures for us. Growing up in Boron, a small Mojave desert town, about an hour from the nearest incorporated city could easily lead to boredom. There were no movie theatres, no malls, not even a chain grocery store to entertain us. The population of about two thousand only accounted for one small food mart and three family-owned restaurants. So, when John suggested taking us up Saddleback Mountain my mother and father jumped at the opportunity of something new.

“It’s okay Mom,” Hannah chimes in, “we can make our own path.”

My mom tried to hide her laugh, so as not to hurt Hannah’s confidence. “Okay Honey, lead the way.”

Hannah picked a spot and started walking up. The base of the hill was the same as all the ground in the Mojave Desert: covered in light brown sand, with those strange bushes that smell like cat pee when it rains. I was not interested by this. I had seen this same view in every empty plot of land in my hometown.

But the further my feet carried me, the more the ground changed. The sand turned to small dark-red rocks that choke out the strange bushes. I was wearing the only pair of tennis shoes that I could still get on my growing feet. They were brown Sketchers that my mom found for half-off at Famous Footwear. I didn’t mind that the back end of these shoes slipped off my feet while playing tag on the jungle gym at school but as I planted the right Sketcher in front of me and tried to pull the rest of my body up, my foot slipped out and I suddenly found myself falling towards the red rocks. I put my hands out to catch myself and felt the pebbles break the skin on my palms.

“Woah, Kiddo!” my dad shouted from behind me. He rushed to my side. “You gotta be more careful” he said as he looks at my hands.

“My shoe,” is all I could choke out. I didn’t want to cry. It would ruin the trip.

My dad looked at my right foot, only covered by what used to be a white sock but was now stained brown from the desert sand. “Oh Kiddo” he sighed with sympathy.

My mom passed Joannah’s sweaty hand to my dad and grabbed my shoe. She emptied out the small sharp intruders and placed it back on my foot, making sure to tighten the laces as best she could.

“C’mon Crash,” she said to me as she helped me up and brushed off my palms with the care and understanding I hoped to one day achieve when I had children of my own. I smiled at her as I remember the nickname bestowed upon me by my grandfather, due to the unimaginable times I seemed to fall throughout the day. At this, Hannah could not contain her giggling and whispered under her breath, “Crash”. I found myself giggling with her and ran to her side. I showed her my hands and received a satisfying gasp of surprise at my wounds in return. But immediately after she turned on her heels and continued up our mountain. Nothing would delay her in her expedition.

I followed as best I could. As we picked up speed Joannah called after us from my dad’s side, “Wait! You’re going too fast!” She quickened her pace, pulling my dad behind her as best she could. Joannah would not be left behind.

As we got higher, the rocks grew bigger, and I had to use my hands to help myself climb. I imagined what awaited in just a few more feet, when the ground evened out and we could finally stop climbing. Would this all be worth it?

“I’m first!” Hannah yelled as she reaches top.

“First is the worst, second is the best.” I couldn’t help but taunt back at her. It was my favorite argument to have with her, as second born. But her back was turned to me. She was looking out in front of her, frozen in place, with no interest in what I had said to her.

I turned away to see what it was that entranced her and the view I found in front of me was indescribable. I could see all of Boron. Nearest to us was the high school’s football field. Furthest, the park where I would play my Little League games. Everything in between was so small. The streets my sisters and I would ride are bikes were barely visible and I tried to find my home, but I couldn’t. Every house blended together like a painting that had been dropped in a puddle. To my right I could see what looks like mounds of dirt that had been chopped off from the top. It’s the mine where my friends’ parents work. I knew because we passed it every time we drove in and out of town. I didn’t know until then how far it went back. The vast largeness of it made my hometown look like a mere pile of beads someone spilled next to a boulder. But what surprises me the most is what I found to my left. There was a lake. Or at least it looked like a lake.

“Dad what is that?” I pointed at it.

“That’s the solar plant Kiddo,” he tried to explain, “It’s just a bunch of mirrors pointed at the sky.”

I didn’t understand. “It looks like water.”

My mom tried to help, “Well yeah honey, water just reflects the sky,” she could see the confusion in my eyes, “water is like a big mirror.”

I stared in disbelief. The solar plant glittered with radiance equal to that of the sun itself. The light bouncing off seemed to shift, almost as if it was winking at me. It taunted me with the promise of the cool relief that water would have brought me, knowing it could not fulfill its promise. I had been tricked. I wondered how I could not have known about it until this second. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, found in a never-ending ocean of the familiar, dull sand that surrounded my home.

My dad broke the silence, “Hm. Not much to look at huh? I don’t know if all that work was worth it.”


Rebekah Pulaski is a new, working writer attending university in Costa Mesa, CA. She grew grew up in the Mojave Desert of California.