One of the Tehachapi windmills is spinning at the top of the hills when I look up.
I keep telling myself this is what I’m doing.
Repeating the sound and the idea to myself: This is what I’m doing.
But all I’m doing is driving around.
Dirt roads line the desert, cutting through the nothing. They are ruts and rivers of air in the dead sea bed. And they have ruts in them too.
After a while I pull off the paved road and onto one of the dirt roads. I don’t drive very far on the dirt, just a hundred yards or so and then I stop the car.
A smell of dryness comes from all around me.
This is what I’m doing.
Out here there’s no reason to look for people or to expect anything. Cars at a distance are just machines. There are no desert people. The closest things to humans are the plants.
One-eyed Suzanne’s lining the red-brown packed-dirt road give a slight moan in the wind (now and then), or I imagine that the moan comes from them and not the dead, dry tumble weeds half-buried in the ground.
Looking north again, the same windmill keeps turning and the others stand still, watching the one like resentful siblings. Not like human siblings. Like machines hatched from the same machine egg. Their resentment imperfect but uniform.
It’s hot today. There is a wind down here that laughs at the heat.
I think about my family as I take a picture of the dirt road. My mother left me the camera when she last visited as an afterthought. She had two for some reason.
Somehow I fail to believe this. And by This, I mean more than the two cameras. I mean all of it.
I can’t believe that the dirt road is actually here this far into the 21st century, that I am really standing on it beneath the Tehachapi Mountains, that I am real, that this isn’t a Buddhist dream (with Vishnu’s dream ready to burst like an accidental bubble in a soft, liquid: “plop”: opening out into the greater light of what is really real).
My brother’s voice is part of the camera and though it doesn’t say anything the voice resonates like a struck bell. For years he travelled and took pictures and interviewed people. It was a kind of destiny for him that eventually faded away.
In a moment of insanity we shared a house and got along. Then we came back to ourselves.
My mind jumps to where I picture him right now, an imagined cottage in Costa Rica where he lives doing odd work in the middle of the city of San Juan.
No one could have predicted that things would turn out this way. We’d grow up in the grass, tumble through the days and nights of Midwestern summers, and fall away like leaves across the Americas. Scattered. Whatever forces of nature led us to the jungle and to the desert could have instead led us to European streets, African huts, or just down our own street to buy the inevitable house next door to our parents.
That’s what happened one generation before us. The family stuck together. It’s still happening.
Does it mean anything that I am where I am, if it all could have been different? If a word had been spoken at the beginning to change the timing, to slow the gears of the Mechanism?
Does it mean anything that one tiny blade of grass turns brown at the tip, breaks off and turns to dry soil: odorless; undead?
I lie on the hood of my car, trying to focus on the sky and ignore the rest.
People don’t understand when I tell them this is what I’m doing and this is what I’m always going to do. A conversation about this, impossibly abstract, a subject for schools in another language.
The project of explaining even the question of how this is not like a dream – it is a dream – and the imaginary happenings of the brain are part of the experience of the mind.
They’re as real as the physical happenings. At least as far as the mind is concerned.
The sky is real to me.
The fact that only one windmill spins plays across my neurons. The chemicals of my body respond as if the thought is a sugar or a drug.
There is empty space inside me that I can almost feel (where the electricity jumps, where the blind darkness is deep, where the electrons spin).
There is a sky in me and a windmill.
I can’t explain any of this to anyone and make them understand because I don’t understand. I know there is some truth inside these pictures and there is some pattern to the way leaves fall away from the tree so there is almost a reason that my brother is trimming hedges in Costa Rica while I lie down on the hood of my dirty car on a rutted dirt road in the Mojave.
I don’t know what it is, the truth of it or the meaning, and I don’t expect any clear explanations. There is no epiphany in the works.
There is only the sky and the windmill spinning.
The empty space inside.
The leaves have fallen. That’s how it is.
That’s how it always will be.
jeremy johnson is a painter living in the Illinois River Valley in central Illinois.
Find more work by jeremy johnson here: Inside My Mind.
eric m martin is an artist, playwright and fiction writer. His work has appeared or will soon appear in Hard Times, Rokoko, Philosophy for the Rockers, The Open Doors Zine and on stage.
Find more work from eric m martin here: House of Water.