Liftoff -- through the air and over the ocean. Banking left. Cloud deck. Clockwork.

Clouds in waves, lap against the San Gabriel Mountains. Ribbons of the city are visible through the seams in the clouds. The city, like a bad dream, remains mostly hidden. The city, like an alien world, allows itself not to be examined at a glance. Regular patterns show the presence of organized life. Sigh.

The clouds break. Dirt roads snake. Along the ridges of the backcountry hills. The settlements -- fewer, dispersed. The realization of leaving the desert, perhaps for good. Going back soon, to begin life new from the old.

I thought that my goodbye to the desert would occur during the drive north, but no. Here it is at 30,000 feet. Look over -- washes in contrasting light shades where they careened out of the darker lands of discontent volcanic deposit and tectonic jumble. Ridges splay at hard angles. Plains sit in monochromatic puddles. The evidence of man winds from horizon to horizon in thin strips, disturbed only occadionally in splotches of condensed settlement.

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