To a consciousness formed in gentle deciduous lands, the vista is unimaginably bleak: the toxic, colorless void of a Nevada alkali lake bed, a blank white canvas the size of Rhode Island, flat as water and dry as parchment on which there lives nothing visible to the naked eye, remnant of the Pleistocene stretching to a barely visible horizon of tawn and purple mountains. Hot winds blow from all points of the compass and shift direction in an instant, whipping the playa into dust devils that spiral into a cloudless blue sky. At times a steady wind blows for interminable hours, during which dust fine as talc clogs the pores and lungs and reduces the world beyond arm’s length to a white blur. We might be inhabitants of one of Calvino’s invisible cities except that only mad dogs and white men would occupy...

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