I have many fine and important American friends. But I have two that I will call on in the end, who I’m fairly hopeful will survive me, to help me achieve my final request. I want my ashes spread on Mono Lake.

Why? Because I was born in California and I want to return there.

Because the Pacific Ocean is an ocean, and I’ve spent too much time abroad.

Because Mono Lake is the most beautiful, haunted place I know.

I’ve always felt that once over the mountains and into the high desert air, I was free of the city, free of the past. Although I spent a lot of time in the Sierras growing up, this was my domain. No family memory shrouded it.

There’s a smell in the air here, and a shimmer not merely of light, but of being, that defies all description. I’ve been in the Sahara and in the Gobi, and this is more intense to me.

The lake itself, with its towers of tufa and the volcanic craters around conjures visions of other planets. But to turn west is the thing.

This is the vision that broke the hearts and minds of many. If you know where to look for Tioga Pass, you may, just may, pick it out. But if you’d never scaled those heights and were already weary in soul, the sight of the Sierra spine rising in full monolithic monstrosity would do you.

Many of the Lahontan era natives, down to the Paiutes and tribal conservators of Yosemite never crossed these mountains. They stayed either side.

Mono Lake was known amongst the Native Americans of the Great Basin as a place of salt and resting seabirds. They intuited an ocean from the nature of the birds-even though they never saw it. A magnificent deduction.

It was and is also a place of flies-and one of the nicknames for the local tribe was “The Fly Eaters,” for their practice of using the salt from the water to dry meat.

Mono Lake is today in a state of severe environmental crisis. It could go the way of the Caspian Sea and other once vital bodies of water.

But just look how glorious she is. A place of mystery and hardship. A place where people died hoping. A place where some, like the rawhide and trail dust Kit Carson said, “We can do this.”

Kit Carson, for all his toughness was a very small man. How did he get over those big mountains? He wisely listened to Indians from the other side. People who were just as surprised as he was to turn back and look west.

To look east from Mono Lake is to view a lost world. To look west is to see what many thought they saw. When I’m done, burn my heart and spread it like salt in the wind across the water, and then I’ll be home.

TAGS: , , , , , ,

KRIS SAKNUSSEMM is a writer, painter and musical producer. He is the author of the international cult novels Zanesville and Private Midnight. Random House is bringing out his third novel in the USA in March 2011, and a new book called Reverend America has just been completed and is already being sold in Europe. A Fellow at the MacDowell Colony, he has won First Prize in the Boston Review and River Styx Short Fiction Contests, and received the Fiction Collective 2 Award for Innovative Writing, in addition to publishing in a wide range of places such as Playboy, Nerve.com, Opium Magazine, The Missouri Review, The Hudson Review, The Antioch Review, New Letters, Prairie Schooner and ZYZZYVA, amongst many others. You can find more about him on his Facebook Page.

3 responses to “The Dead Sea of America”

  1. Don Mitchell says:

    Kris, I enjoy coincidences. Last September, when I commented on your “Beauty and the Boom,” I had just driven past Mono Lake, and admired it.

  2. I’ve lived in California for 24 years HOW HAVE I NEVER HEARD OF THIS?

    Planning a roadtrip for an indeterminate point in the future. Thanks for the great rec!

  3. Kris Saknussemm says:

    Kit, very pleased if I’ve introduced you to this totally magical place. Enjoy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *