This winter night outside Quartzsite, Arizona, no-nonsense bonfires flicker and shine; wood smoke and diesel exhaust mingle under the inversion. People camp out here because it’s free, but makeshift businesses offering bottled water, medical supplies, used dune buggies and swap-meet trinkets prove that commerce can survive anywhere. There are propane filling stations and “sanitary” dumps for the blue-tinted sewage and wads of degradable toilet paper sloshing about in the technology-dependent vehicles of independent Americans.
Along the freeway we call “The Ten” thrives this mobile civilization of fast food, fast boats, motorcycles, Jet Skis, sunburned white skin, three-dollar gasoline. From Fontana to Tucson, from Mexicali to Bakersfield, from Tonopah to Tehachapi, the Indians (according to their sentimental Anglo chroniclers) once called this complicated world of aridity and franchises “The Hollow of God’s Hand."
When I was a kid we always had campers and trailers, and once a year or so I still visit aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, who stayed in the skilled trades or perhaps dropped a few rungs into drink, depression, prison and who prove that even when the bottom is close, you can always get something to tow behind the pickup truck. My parents both grew up using primitive toilets and sleeping rough out of necessity, and despite their liberal politics (incendiary Wobbly combativeness on my mother’s side; Berrigan-style Vatican II pacifism on my father’s) their domestic tastes were thoroughly bourgeois: a real bed and your own bathroom; a five-acre ranchette and a Costco membership.
So instead of fretting about snakes in the outhouse, we fretted about sewage in the camper. Every drop of water that went down the drain filled the holding tank a bit more, and eventually we’d find a place to dump it—a demeaning and unpleasant job. Those vehicles are fussy: their tiny switches and inconvenient pilot lights and threaded joints thwart the slapdash. “Righty-tighty, lefty-loosey,” was Dad’s mnemonic; “You’re going at it like a woman” one of his correctives, as I dangled a drinking-water hose in the dirt. But I got it from him, a kind of cheerful impatience. He was a bricklayer, and if he had a motto, it was “Get a bigger hammer.”
Even now, when I’m standing in the garage, say, with one arm full of firewood, hacking at a paraffin-and-sawdust fire starter with a too-small screwdriver, I imagine him telling me I’m going at it like a woman, and have to agree. To live like I live requires a certain kind of attention, but the roof leaks; the car needs a brake job; the yard is all dried grass and ailanthus, and the septic tank makes the occasional funny noise. I live in a fire-prone California canyon, commute to the university job nearby, and every day, in some way, I’m going at it half-assed—like someone who won’t put herself four-square to what needs done.
Along the road to Silverton, Oregon, there were a few houses roofed with patchworks of blue tarp, yards filled with broken-down vehicles. The men who lived there went at things seriously half-assed, and in the last year of his life, Dad’s self-censors slipped and he started calling them “hay farmers.” Hay is an easy crop that kind of grows on its own, and then you mow it and bale it, or better yet, hire someone else to mow and bale it, and recruit a bunch of kids—like my younger self—to load and stack it for you. (I can still feel chaff mixed with sweat on my neck and remember the “here we go” feeling of a shifting truckload speeding unsafely down the highway.) Then, if you’re like my grandparents, you feed the crew of helpers a single plate of skinny tuna sandwiches cut in fourths and a single pitcher of iced tea, unsweetened. Dad always stopped at the Polar King on the way home, for hamburgers piled with glamorously shredded lettuce to salvage those dismal Saturdays when we brought in hay. He often spent precious weekends helping his in-laws for nothing; their presumption and stinginess just made him laugh.
Before he married a woman to civilize him, my youngest brother was pretty close to hay farmer himself, dumping leftover oil from his sardine can into the squeaky hinge of his truck door, doctoring mouldy coffee cups and Dr. Pepper bottles full of tobacco juice with hits of Scope when he was too busy to tidy up. Resolutely, chronically insolvent, he was an artist with fieldstone and river rock, and after a day on the job site, he’d drive home on his suspended licence and fill his chilly and chaotic house with Vivaldi motets and the latest atonal choral compositions from Mitteleuropa’s avant-garde. Another brother is prevented only by his wife’s high standards from filling their suburban yard with vehicles-in-progress. He has arranged his work schedule (as a crisis counselor at a local hospital) so that he can spend his days off doing freelance remodeling: the white collar edging back toward blue; knowing replaced by doing. My own office is cluttered with old postcards, theatre programs from a binge in Los Angeles a few years ago (there was the Uncle Vanya that made me cry, the weird-but-moving Metamorphoses done in Polish and the dismal big-budget Lorca with no intermission), masks of “my creative self” from an ill-judged weekend at a retreat centre. I can’t help comparing the piles of notebooks and papers to haystacks gone mouldy. Kafka asked a friend to burn his work like so much fictional chaff, but only after he was dead. While alive, there’s always the chance to get serious, find the right-sized hammer, pull the gems out of the old notebooks and defy the conventions that say there must be an intermission. To stop going at it like a woman.
The words come to mind, and I imagine Dad’s chuckle—so you’re one of us in spite of all that college—ha! Tell me again why we’re supposed to take you so seriously? On his last lucid day, before his final coma, he told me to bring him a hand-truck. Later, he asked how wide a window had measured, and when I didn’t know, he said, “Well, Alisa. How are you going to help me?” His tone, aggrieved and laughing, shone through the aphasia. I only remember him being seriously angry once. It was Christmastime, I’d come up from California for a visit, and my brothers and I had spent the morning in Portland, shopping, drinking tarry Pacific Northwest coffee and taking our time getting back, pretty thoroughly ignoring that morning’s announcement that an aunt was bringing our aged grandmother over for a visit. We got back to the house in the freezing twilight, long after they’d gone. “Shit-for-kids,” Dad had said, turning away, teary-eyed. It was the worst thing he could think to call us. His mother was old and maybe that was going to be our last chance to see her. As it happened, she outlived him, something we couldn’t help seeing as the true obscenity because he knew how everything worked. There was a way of doing things, not methodical, not, perhaps, by the book, but not hay farmer, either—our way—and it went into the ground with him. He didn’t want to go to a funeral parlour, so we had the undertaker bring the coffin to the house and packed the empty spaces around his body with rosemary coaxed to grow in a south-facing garden.
I drive through Quartzsite and marvel at the competence going to waste in this stretch of desert. Men who once wore steel-toed boots, who can fix anything, live in those metal boxes out there. They sit and watch television with women who once fed threshing crews and doctored burns and taught mathematics while blizzards roared outside.
On the ridge a kind of beacon flashes against the rock. It’s not a warning light; it’s not a bonfire. It has a kind of four-square containment, orange and red and yellow, and finally, as I’m about to pass the thing, it comes into focus: people are filling a hot-air balloon, the ultimate fussy machine, but simple, too—a balloon relies on the most basic mechanisms: flame and early-morning cold, cloth and wind. I watch the balloon being assembled; there’s a cascade of activity, a buzzing heap of tiny tasks before it bounces free, impatient in its buoyancy, a drifting reproach to the earnest mechanical force of an airplane.
Bouncing free of the earth, flying on invisible energy—do the balloon-fillers think in those terms? Certainly a unifying feature, if one can exist in these deserts, is age, but there’s no concurrent marker for death, that ultimate bounce into the wide void. This sets Quartzsite apart from other desert outposts, those copper and agricultural boomtowns pocked with boarded-up businesses and thriving mortuaries. Peer into the windows and the exhausted end reveals itself in boxes of dusty Mason jars, stacks of newspapers, broken chairs. The same is true across the border, where towns invite the eye to look at the aging, the grown-over. There, death is so well served that the Mexican skull candies and mortuary art are everywhere. But competence still exists in Mexicali, in El Centro, Tonopah, Caborca, Gila Bend, even up the coast to Maxwell and San Luis Obispo and Lee Vining and Mount Shasta and Veneta, Oregon, all the uneasy little places I have broken down over the years. A welder can make the part, a burnout mechanic happens to have your model of distributor cap in a dusty metal shed or the almond-munchers hanging out at the garage recall that the belt you need may be on another vehicle rotting at the edge of a field somewhere. But in Palm Springs, in Quartzsite, in the subdivisions down the road from my house, everything’s new or soon to be discarded and replaced. In the retirement enclaves, there’s a stripped-down, almost medieval atmosphere as banners announce allegiance to Windsor, Minneapolis, Fargo and their rural environs. The scene is designed for freedom from any expectation of competence. Best not to break down here if you don’t drive something big and self-contained. Nobody has your part, and the welders are hobbyists, too busy setting cheap turquoise to mess with anything fussy.
Past Quartzsite, on a stretch of freeway broken only by a truck stop and a billboard for cheap cigarettes, a man crosses the road, barely ahead of traffic. I brake; the roaring diesel behind me brakes. The pedestrian lopes off into the creosote, his white sweatshirt, white hair and beard a blur in the night. He’s parked out there in the dark, sleeping on the ground with the scorpions and coyotes. I camp alone and friends ask if I’m scared. Of what, I ask. Of snakes, of bears? The only sidewinders I’m afraid of are the two-legged kind, I say with a cowgirl swagger. You park out of sight, you flop on the ground when the headlights slide by, you’re only risking it when you do what this man did and cross in the high beams. He’s invisible out there in the dark; the knockers-over-the-head, the tormenters and the outlaws will scout him in the daylight. Lights down the highway promise safety, but this landscape’s tricky: you want to be far enough from your neighbour that his generator doesn’t drive you mad, close enough to give the impression of circled wagons. It’s the outliers who get picked off, as any outlier knows.
Once I went into the desert with an ex-Marine fresh from Nicaragua. He’d gone down there freelance to help the Sandinistas fight the Contras, or so he said. He claimed that his politics had evolved post-service, prompting him to defend freedom wherever, against whomever. A few months after our trip, he flew to Pakistan, hoping to hook up with the mujahedeen and fight against the doomed Russians. He came back with malaria, got treated, and disappeared for good after eating an entire nine-by-thirteen pan of enchiladas. He was the one given to flopping when the headlights appeared, and he liked me because of my politics and because I fed him, but also because I flopped on instinct, uncoached. He spoke passable Pashtun and serviceable Spanish. I sometimes imagine him in dialogue with my father; but both of them say only what I can imagine them saying, and they don’t get anywhere.
Men make things, or admire others who do. Recently, a tinkerer my father would love, Tim Hawkinson, is exhibiting enormous contraptions at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, such as a syncopated rhythm machine made of aluminum pie plates, an old computer program, and water. He favors things you can inflate with air (chicken skin, a latex model of himself, an entire wall that breathes the scary odour of hot plastic). One of his sculptures consists of a series of sprockets: a tiny one spins visibly; others turn once in a day or a week or months. The largest takes a hundred years to complete a revolution. Music boxes, model sailboats, bathtub rings on his own body, his own body as bathtub plug, a perfect little bird made of fingernail clippings, a feather made out of hair: it’s all beautifully done. Hawkinson’s work has the purity and symmetry of the desert, unlike the Basquiat across town, which is pure hay farmer, all violence and competition, vague outlines and words, words, words. Given the choice between being a polymath and being good with his hands, what man would choose knowing over doing, understanding an abomination over stopping it?
Knockers-over-the-head certainly exist—lots of people have guns, and these hills are crawling with sidewinders and snakes—but the car I’m driving (as the artificial flowers and crosses by side of the road like to remind me) and time itself, wield the biggest death-scythes. For the lucky, the body’s triptych of old age/disability/death follows that order and fate supplies a few years of the first before the second two close in with the oxygen tanks, walkers, and deathbed paraphernalia available in one of Quartzsite’s few permanent buildings, the medical supply store.
Tonight I’m on my way to my mother-in-law’s 80th birthday party at a retirement hotel down the road in Casa Grande. Most of her neighbours are very old, well beyond the point of righty-tighty. If they can’t get a grip, at least they’re past caring much. It’s been a few years since Dad died, so I’m able to be around old people without hating them for stealing the two or three decades I imagine he was owed. But the place still confuses me. Other people—mostly young Latina women—cook the meals, sort the medications, drive the residents to the Wal-Mart. The small store of vitality in the residence is rationed out into pleasurable activities by a slim, turquoise-festooned woman. At the party, she watches while my brother-in-law plays his guitar too long and bladders fill all around. Given her profession, I’d wager she has a no-nonsense syringe locked away somewhere, and judging from the look on her face, she’s ready to use it. A free-spirited sort from Tucson, Mark tries to tailor his set to his audience: a song by the Rolling Stones, a little John Denver, a little Merle Haggard. But the Haggard catches them off guard, a death row prisoner singing about memories, the certain end. Sing me back home before I die. Toes that had been tapping slow down and stop, and a few people fall asleep in self-defence. The empty swimming pool gleams in the afternoon sun, the bright room bristles with silk plants, and the song seems to push at the thin fabric separating the partiers from their future. Mostly Midwestern widows of Second World War veterans, they long ago made their peace with mediocre abilities and high expectations and developed ample rhetoric to reconcile the two—the greatest generation, so far. It’s nice for the rest of us that the pressure’s off.
This retirement home reminds me of a Mexican soap opera set, where all traces of Mexican competence—a friend calls it “Mexicanico”—fall under the wheels of the ready-made. But sometimes, in a close-up, the dentistry looks a little iffy, the hardware gives away the strangeness, tiny traces of the place adhere. Even a few feet across the border into Mexicali or Tijuana or Juárez, the smells indicate the direction, a certain flavour of car exhaust mixes with a specific brand of blue cleaning fluid, wood smoke, the dust of the south. Great-tailed grackles roost in trees at sundown and announce that the temperate zone flies a ragged fringe. The grackles rattle and squeak: Welcome to the tropics, or near enough, you chingaderos. In Casa Grande, after the anemic birthday lunch, I waited for an order at the burrito stand and listened to the birds claim the place for the tricolor, Gadsden or no.
Driving late at night is a bad habit, but here I am again, squinting into the sunset and only halfway home. The single classical station I can pull in broadcasts an eternal fundraising drive and the Mexicali hip hop station keeps cutting out, so the radio is tuned to La Cumbia Caliente. Like its ranchera and norteña cousins, Cumbia features accordion and brass and a species of fast tenor yodeling, but its roots stretch further south, as do many of its subjects. One song laments the plight of the priced-out coffee farmer: “Este cafetero/no tiene dinero/este cafetero/va por el sendero.” This coffee farmer’s broke, he’s hitting the road. There’s something complicated that I can’t make out, something about life seeming very Colombian lately, or maybe life in Colombia not being so nice. The existence that seems to me admirably provisional and temporary, like a highly advanced form of camping, is going south for good and—what do I know?—was maybe never much fun in the first place, despite the regretful songs.
Cooking-fires in the courtyard, swept dirt, chickens, the dug-in privy, the cold-water shower, all the trappings of hot-climate domesticity, va por el sendero. Where will they go? A bus line advertising on the Cumbia station (Cincuenta mil watts de potencia!) lists its destinations: Chino, San Dimas, Pomona, Riverside, San Bernardino, Corona. Miles and miles of tile roofs and sealed windows shelter the millions of people who live outside Los Angeles proper. They must negotiate down payments, zoning, street after street of rooms that look like sets for Mexico City dramas, only with the wrong hardware. Este cafetero better have a decent credit rating. And forget chickens. At least when the knock on the door comes, it’s a duly-constituted authority, so far.
Hang on a minute, my father would say. If it hurts people, if it sends them back to where they’ll be hungry or oppressed, how can authority be legitimate? My mother, untroubled by pacifism, viewed all authority as an entity to be questioned and in most cases despised and resisted. She tends toward mysticism now, in reaction to the church’s authoritarian nonsense, and political quietism, in reaction, I suspect, to twenty years of anti-depressant medication. I always suspected that if God were involved a bit more directly in the parish operation, my parents wouldn’t have cut Him any slack, either, but my issues aren’t with God lately. Maybe it’s living in a region with more than 20 million people that’s done it, but if my religious feelings have form these days, it is built around the certainty that God doesn’t care one way or another what I do. Should I stay or should I go? Beyond the scary existential heads-or-tails, that’s a question for love, not theology. The Clash answered it better than I can, anyway: If I go there will be trouble, and if I stay it will be double.
For my father, it was all about the four Gospels, the demands of a certain kind of Christianity: pacifism, opposition to the death penalty, compassion for prisoners and the poor, serious consideration of the dilemmas posed by abortion and other ethical train wrecks. When I describe Dad’s last days to friends, they shudder. I wouldn’t want to live like that, they say. Well, yes, maybe not, I answer, but he certainly did. He was aphasic, crashing around and falling into things, not really aware of what was happening. On good days, he had pleasurable hallucinations, talked about grade-school classmates, called me “Nurse Ratchet” and laughed. Some llamas that an unusually aimless neighbor was storing in my parents’ pasture got loose and went straight for the day lilies, sending them flying into the air, and I had to wrangle the alien critters back behind the fence. We lived life like hay farmers, imperfectly, perhaps not “richly,” as the credit-card company billboards along the freeway urge. Like the Basquiat, it was a bit of a mess, not at all transcendent, but I’d hate to think it was wrong.
The other day a friend, who is writing a biography, got into a rough patch with her subject and asked if I could help. Had I ever had an abortion? I hadn’t, never even had a significant scare until very recently. Is it ethical to have one? I don’t know; I just know that if I had, like many of my friends did in their twenties and thirties, my father would have been unhappy, because it would have denied him another person to love. Another (increasingly, scarily Catholic) friend compares the Iraq war with the abortion dilemma. How to answer that? Which is worse? I’d have an abortion in a minute now if I needed one, now that my father is dead; I feel that what’s happening in Iraq is an obscenity and a sin. Is it worse not to exist, or to be squashed by a bomb after already having existed? That’s an easy question for a depressive like my mother: most days are bad and grey and the burden of existing is intolerable; on good days, she can at least muster up a fierce compassion on behalf of others who suffer because suffering is an old companion, always ready to devise new ways of causing pain whatever strategies she develops to combat it.
Where is the person who could help me through this? Under the ground or elevated into the ether, gone away, hit the road, on the great sendero to wherever the dead go? Or is it, as I’ve long suspected, my pragmatic Russian guru, Anton Chekhov? Stop second-guessing the cosmos and proof-texting Dostoevsky, he wrote. Get to work. Get a bigger hammer.
Or get out of town, so far south that the sendero peters out in the swampy jungle just shy of Colombia. In Panama, villagers ride small buses nicknamed “goats,” and people deliver themselves to lives lived mostly out-of-doors. Outside Tonosí, a woman stands by the side of the road with a canister of cooking gas; when the bus rolls to a stop the conductor jumps off and tosses the drum onto the roof, tying it down with a length of yellow nylon rope. A few miles later, she gets off; the conductor tosses the gas to a young man waiting at her lonely crossroads. At a certain hour, the driver tunes the radio to the lottery numbers and all the passengers rustle bits of paper printed with numbers, then grumble and crumple. It’s corrupt, and anyway, I never win. Post-lottery, the radio goes back to the cumbias and salsas with their laments.
In a village on the Pacific coast, a man cuts sandals out of cheap, locally cured leather while over in the corner, a mound of ants dismember a centipede and march out the door a few inches from his heels. When my turn comes, the zapatero carves around my toes with a decidedly unfussy kitchen knife, dull and loose in the hasp, and I curl my toes away from it. He pats them. “Plano, plano,” he says. If he thought I’d understand, he’d probably say I was going at it like a woman. The sandals look great but they pull and pinch. I wear them all the way to Panama City, then stuff them into my bag and switch to mass-produced. Village sandals se va por Panama, but they don’t quite make it, even less so in California on the 33rd parallel, below the grackle-line, but just barely.
I arrive back only just in time to meet my classes at the beginning of the semester, still feeling culture-shocked the night a student in my fiction workshop wants to talk about Kafka. “It’s a remarkable piece of apparatus.” The officer’s words resound as they always do, even with twenty-year-olds. It’s a remarkable machine, but too fussy, as the events show. Nobody’s having a good day. The sun’s too hot. The apparatus malfunctions because no one makes the replacement parts locally anymore, and the officer ends up skewered on the punitive mechanism that constituted his sole fetish. He’s the only one who cares about the state of the penal colony, who’s competent, who keeps things together: abomination and violence require some fussing, some standards—or so I tell the students that night. I tell them too that in Panama, I read José Saramago’s Blindness until I was too freaked out to continue—traveling alone in Latin America is perhaps not a good time to read allegorical literature about control gone out of control—and there, too, the grip finally relaxed when the control freaks turned into hay farmers, went blind, couldn’t keep the technology going or the rifles aimed. That’s when everyone got to go back home, damaged beyond repair. I should have kept going and stayed freaked out. Something about certain moments in Latin America nails unsafe in place, and Saramago would have appreciated my paranoia. Even in the house, or the home on wheels, there’s nothing to be not worried about.
In any case, it’s Kafka who should have me worried: the second we begin discussing the story, the classroom doorknob freezes, locking us in: every teacher’s nightmare. After an hour punctuated by more discussion of penal colonies and first-person narrators, and several nasty cellphone conversations with the laggardly campus police, a student takes the door off its hinges with some fancy pliers she always carries in her backpack. “Can I have extra credit?” she asks, and I assure her she most certainly can, but she’s absent most of the semester. I give her an incomplete at semester’s end, although I should probably fail her. I almost never fail people when they ask me not to. I’m officially a softie. My father would like this kid, I think. Individual affinities, the rule of law that keeps the cops out of your house—is that all there is?
Not everybody has a house, he reminds me—or I remind myself on his behalf. My mother-in-law came of age during the Depression and the Second World War, that officiallygreatest of generations now sitting in comfortable quarters and refusing to agonize about the present. My father’s fate and politics were much more complex, but as a moral guide, he’s lost the complexity of a real person. The soft tissues have gone rigid and who am I kidding, he’s not speaking from beyond the grave anyway; he’s receded into the background, like a flash of light that filled the balloon and bounced free of the earth, floating in the dark and taking its mechanism along.
In this part of California, the land conservancies exist to hold the metropolis at bay, halting whatever’s coming from the west and, especially, the south. I’ve joined; I’ve done volunteer work for a few of them, but never felt right about it. A while back I wrote an obituary for one of their newsletters: a memorial in words for a woman whose lack of cynicism led her naturally to a life well lived. At the conservancy’s annual meeting, dried-up old equestrians and amateur botanists talked of their windmill-tilting battles with developers and planning commissions and state legislators. I’ve known them for years and still don’t understand them, other than to suspect it would probably be to our benefit if people like this never died. But then another grizzled eco-veteran slipped in and took a seat, a man I suspect hides a vein of racism under his pose as population-control advocate and bio-regionalist. I glanced around at the white heads. My father’s hair was white by the time he was forty, and my brothers are on a similar schedule. It gives them an air of authority; it makes them glow in the dark. What does it mean, here and now, for this place to turn toward the desert, to invite the great emptiness and reject the bustle of the village, the city, the crowd?
It’s a remarkable machine. It’s been a difficult few years capped by a remote-control war, something Kafka’s countrymen would understand, something—I keep running over this, like the words graven in the flesh—something my father can no longer help me take apart and negotiate. Every so often I’d read the latest Papal nonsense or an essay by William F. Buckley and threaten to renounce my baptism, and he’d remind me that the nuns read Archbishop Romero during their meditations, not Bill Buckley; he’d talk me down like a suicide off a ledge. Once he asked, who needs your help most? “Lay off her,” my pragmatic mother yelled from the sink. “Maybe she just wants to live. Maybe she doesn’t need to help anybody. Maybe they don’t need any help from her, either.”
So, hay farmer that I am, I teach Kafka and his ilk to those who can arrange a fancy college education for themselves. Perhaps the young Latina women in the retirement home laundry rooms and all those fast-food kitchens along The Ten studied the doom-plucked Czech wherever they had the good luck to go to school, but perhaps not. Saramago is no likelier a bet, even though he’s Portuguese, a linguistic cousin at least. In any case they’re living in the penal colony now, keeping us all moving fast, eating fast, helping the old people make it to the toilet on time, letting them know there’s hope before they throw themselves under the blades. Their brothers are in another desert, fighting a war that may never end.
It’s a remarkable machine, we say, but it’s not. There are no remarkable machines anymore, or none that make their workings visible enough to deserve the epithet, unless they’re someone’s flight of fancy, caught in museums. Better, perhaps, to flop in the dark, squat over a hole in the dirt, but those who call the shots call that leisure, not living. Living’s more complicated, or so we claim, and sometimes it requires a remedy, a war or a rescue, low-density zoning, a wall and a line of booby traps along the border. Or so we claim. Righty-tighty. Blow on your fingers until you can get a grip, if you’re not past it. You’re in the desert, even if the tamarisk casts a shade and the golf-course grass is green. The show’s always at eight and there’s one intermission—unless it’s not and there isn’t.
Lefty-loosey, little girl—unless it’s not. Unless you’re someplace else, a better place perhaps, but perhaps not: foreign parts, or the land of the dead, the farthest shore.