Down in the Sink

On the Humboldt Sink, where the water comes to an end. Here it either rises into the sky or seeps into the earth. 

View of the Humboldt Sink from the southeast. Courtesy of photographer Famartin via Wikipedia Commons

Water has been the theme of life lately. More specifically, lots of it! In various forms too: rain, snow, frozen rain, floodwater, ice. Not to complain, I am loving this winter’s latest explosions. Any inconvenience is more than made up for by the good it does for all of us and the world we share with so many other living things. Tonight though, I’m thinking about a place where the water ends. Specifically, the Humboldt Sink. It has always been a place to rush by, the part of I-80 from Lovelock until you crest the hill and start arrive at the Fallon cut-off. A sort of blip in the map. But as I start to learn more about the Great Basin it occurs to me that sinks, even more so than mountain peaks or lush meadows, are the defining features of our part of the world.

A sink is a distinctive geographic feature; a basin from which no water escapes. Rather than flowing into some other basin (like an ocean), the water that flows into a sink does not flow out. It only leaves by evaporation or penetration (i.e., sinking into the groundwater). The Humboldt Sink is the end of the Humboldt River.

One Saturday we set out to explore the Humboldt Sink a bit, along with Lovelock Cave. The cave is an amazing piece of the human record of the Great Basin, a place that was occupied for over 4,000 years! After the cave we drove down the road and just walked out toward the sink. While we didn’t make it as far as the actual playa bed, just walking among the greasewood-dotted sand dunes,  swales and salt grass flats was striking.

This was also the beginning of the dreaded Forty Mile Desert, perhaps the most terror-inspiring and horrific place on the California Trail. Travelers were no fan of the place,

“In place of a great rent in the earth, into which the waters of the rivers plunged with a terrible roar (as pictured in our imagination), there was found a mud lake ten miles long and four or five miles wide, a veritable sea of slime, a ‘slough of despond,’ an ocean of ooze, a bottomless bed of alkaline poison, which emitted a nauseous odor and presented the appearance of utter desolation. ” —Reuben Cole Shaw, 1849

“Even the very wagons seem to know that we are off today for the great adventure—in sand, volcanic ash, alkali, furnace heat, and the stench of putrid flesh—We crossed along the edge of an immense baked plain with the fetid stinking slough for a guide, although the wreckage along the way almost paved our route…. It must have been here that one emigrant said he counted a dead animal every 106 feet.”

It was also an important place for Native Americans, and as such they often came into contact with and conflict with the newcomers. I highly recommend reading Across Nevada, a pamphlet put out in 2012 by the National Park Service from which the top quote is taken. It’s definitely gone into the library. The bottom, unacknowledged, one is from The WPA Guide to Nevada (already in the library).

It is a sink, and walking along in its sand dunes we often started to disappear a bit, giving us an even deeper feeling of walking into a place older somehow than everything around it. A place where more has disappeared than has remained. And, as described by John McPhee in Basin and Range, where a new ocean will one day appear:

“Death Valley. Walker Lake. Carson Sink.” An Exxon map of the western United States is spread open on the seat between us. He runs his finger from Death Valley to Carson Sink and on northward to cross the interstate at Lovelock. “The ocean will open here,” he repeats. “Or in the Bonneville Basin. I think here.” (p. 138 of his collected Annals of the Former World)

I don’t know if this is the most current geology, but this was what most caught my imagination when I read this fascinating book and remains for me a striking image, a metaphor even for the ability of reality to be transformed by the passage of time. That the place that I had driven by hundreds of times, where I walked with Renee and Coco on a calm and cool early spring day, where emigrants had cursed and fought, where Native Americans had seen the beginning of the end of their life ways with the arrival of bands of newcomers with terrible weapons and new diseases, that this place will become an ocean. We come across a perfectly molted snake skin and stop to examine its contours. One day it will open and where we are will be swallowed by a vast expanse of cresting ocean. We walk on, it’s easy to lose yourself in the vast plain until you lift your eyes to the ringing mountains.

Learn-Grow on Drawing


A doodle of the dusk. 

The idea that I should share what I learn rather than what I know (or think I know) has become a guiding principle in my approach to the world lately. It came to me through this blog; I decided that the goal for my posts should be writing about something that interests me, or that I have done, but with the challenge of learning and sharing something new about my subject.

The overall basic principle of it is that we grow through learning. That the chlorophyll of our minds is putting new learned information into it, and that sticking with stale or safe beliefs or pieces of knowledge is petrifying.

This thought process led me to consider what I want to learn more about, and that is how this new category of the blog came into being. My thought is to pick things I’ve always been interested in and to start to learn them, and to share the process with my dear readers.

I’ve been interested in drawing for some time, and I even have notebooks filled with doodles and drawings, but my education in drawing is pretty meager, so for my first Learn-Grow post series I am going to take on the challenge of deepening my knowledge of drawing and in sharing this journey. I am not sure exactly how this path will go, but I think that will also be part of the fun.

Since my time and budget is pretty limited, I am going to start this first through free drawing apps. I hope maybe to turn this into real personal instruction, but one step at a time. After deciding this, I looked around for learn-to-draw programs and websites, and eventually chose one called Drawspace, mainly because it had the interface I liked the most, but I think I’ll try at least a few of them.

The free options are fairly wide ranging here to get started, and for my first two lessons I chose pretty introductory ones: “Welcome to Drawing from Line to Life” and “Enhancing Your Visual Intelligence.”

“Welcome to Drawing from Line to Life,” is, as it sounds, an introduction and didn’t have too much in the way of assigned tasks, although the drawing of these two adorable border terriers (just like my dear dear Coco) warmed my heart (and made me want choke up a little). It also had some interesting information on pencil hardnesses and on sharpening pencils.

Drawing of border terriers!

The second lesson, “Enhancing Your Visual Intelligence,” was more intriguing for the confines of a long car drive and things to think about on a busy weekend. It is basically a way of thinking about training your brain and vision to actively participate in the creative process.

“You can enhance visual intelligence by challenging your brain to find alternate perceptions beyond the obvious and to identify more than one reality in a single image.”

There are a number of exercises here that I would like to try, so this lesson will probably go over a few posts, but for this weekend the only actual exercise we did was to examine clouds. (In all fairness, something we often do anyway.) On Renee and I’s post-ride walk we looked at and talked about the shapes in the clouds after the rainy day we had on Saturday. In one, I saw a pizza cutter and Renee saw a mermaid fetus, quite an illustration of the variations the brain can pick out of a cloud.

Not from this weekend but a very evocative cloud shape!

Do you see anything in this sky scape? Leave notes in comments!

More to come soon …