Talk about farm fields, and people think green. Irrigated green, in wide, water-fed circles: brilliant emerald soft like quilted squares seen from above. Soybeans, silky-headed corn, orchards swaying in a soft, balmy wind.

Amber waves of grain. It is hot in the remote hills of eastern Washington, and to every side, wheat is nodding under a cloudless sky. Above, the sky is a shameless slate of powdery blue, and the sun is glaring down, a perfect white against the faded denim of the face of the heavens. The wind blows warm, sparingly, a 90F breeze that barely moves the swollen fields. Insects move in the furrows, chittering to each other, hopping about.

Blink. Overhead, massive white windmills stroke the sky, lazily turning on the hilltops. Blink. Terns circle overhead, afield from the Columbia, but not by much. Blink. A rattling old Pontiac passes on the road of dirt and gravel, passes the No Trespassing signs thrown up by the agrindustrial complex that owns this particular swathe of America's bread basket. Blink. A crow, on a metal post, stares down on me, quiet for once.

Lick your lips. Close your eyes. Imagine, the light of the sun burning down under your skin. Imagine the whispering of the fields. Imagine nine canyons and the perilous track running the edge of them, all sliding piles of black rock and dust and access roads. Imagine the mine shafts left to fill with water, stagnant stuff singing softly against rotting wooden pylons.

Coffin Road, they call it.

Blink. Blink.

Now imagine opening your eyes and gazing across these dry hills, to the nearest swells of the land, pregnant with dust and grain and irrigation circles. In the distance, the sky is swollen over the Cascades, over the ivory cone of Mount Hood, and it won't - might not - get this far. Lick your lips again, and imagine the wet-grass taste of it, the smell of dust smothered down into mud. Imagine the canyons running sweet and cool with rain, imagine dousing out the sun, and the sky black and purple with roiling clouds, the fingers of lightning from cloud to cloud over the churning blue ribbon of the Columbia.

Rain on water. Rain on dust. The sun goes out in a wash of blue to grey to black. Downpour.

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