One hundred miles from Los Angeles or San Diego, two hundred and fifty miles from Las Vegas, three hundred miles from Phoenix, triangulated by these desert oases, which is to say in the middle of nowhere or maybe at the edge of the map—geography loses its meaning at the frontier—there’s an unincorporated town, population eighty-five, nestled in the San Jacinto Mountains where a woman named Jessie Homer French paints the end of the world. She may have seen the fawn there, bloodied at the mouth, left for dead and overtaken by blades of grass. But as far as I’m aware (I’ve never made the pilgrimage), there are no oil rigs in Mountain Center. Still, she paints them erupting from the ocean like a ring of fire, fish swimming around their metal torsos. The town is six thousand miles to Chernobyl, yet she paints howling wolves and bellowing moose irradiated by its nuclear waste. There is a remote fire tower overlooking San Bernardino National Forest, and I know it seems quaint or pat, but I like to imagine French working up there anyway. The very first paintings that our species imparted on caves were an expression of our natural link, and when I picture Jessie Homer French painting, in my mind I see the fire spreading toward her outpost, and her paintings have become the last paintings, her apocalyptic documents rendered into furious eulogy, forlorn and futile, as the flames reach closer toward its base.
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