There are dunes and then there are dunes. These dunes at White Sands Missile Range feel like walking over an endless white body. Soft, blinding. Disorienting texture of minerals. As though the body has just finished sweating, and the salts are left on the surface. Evaporant. Dessicant. Extraplanetary. Or as though bones are gradually eroding, leaving a fine chalk behind. As though if you burrow down deep enough, you'll find pelvis, skull, scapula. 

Overhead, the ubiquitous military aircraft and sonic booms, enigmatic explosions, air and earth shaking as though footsteps of a gigantic being who draws near. Three thousand square miles of weapons testing, and entering the range comes with warnings and welcome signs. Which one to believe? 

beginning the fieldwork. 

heading out into the dunes. 

composer arthur kell finds a site for field recording as jets fly overhead. 

arthur playing the ocarina through the missile tests. 

choreographer alexx shilling explores silhouettes and shadows...two of many phenomena evoked by the atomic bomb. 


distortions of form. 

invoking those who were here before.


While we were communing with this and the other 21,000 petroglyphs, the U.S. military started dropping bombs and firing missiles.. Practice makes perfect. Deserts here, deserts there, deserts deserts everywhere. The impact makes the chest hurt.

Up on the top of the mountain, it feels as though we are the aliens...whoever "we" are. On certain nights, it's possible to see lasers shooting down drones in war games along the range. At all times, we can gaze out above El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, the sites of femicide mass graves.

Above the sex-trafficked children smuggled over and dumped, half-dead, and the Costco stores where later I bought them diapers.

Above the strongholds and resistance sites of Apache and other Nations, because this is a terrain of genocide and colonialist crimes against humanity – oh, our idealistic vision of the United States that leaves fields of bodies in our wake.

And above the atomic bomb, the white light blasts and shadows of millions of invoked peoples. The concept of testing – practicing – rehearsing deaths of oneself and others.

From the peak I look out across so many years of my life, intermittent, passing along, my friends and almost-family and others – beloved and unbeloved - whose paths crossed and recrossed mine, all of us drawn from the many crevasses of this sad, beautiful, epic, and deeply influential vista. Who are the aliens. Who.

Heading down the mountain from the Apache Point observatory, one enters the Air Force Base and White Sands Missile Testing Range. All the shops have stacks of flyers on suicide prevention. Then another explosion rattles the glass and the holiday grocery shopping continues. Again, my field of internal vision narrows and widens with faces, names, and loves I've known within these and other deaths. The all-times-of-day telephone calls and interventions just off the base, the safe house rescues of girlfriends and wives, yet never enough antennae outstretched to soldiers with guns to their own heads, or the heads of others. I have loved both sides. Or is it all sides.

The pain is immense, here, across centuries, and much of it surrounds the ignorance, arrogance of a young nation who still just cannot figure out where to point our guns.

It seems we can't stop killing ourselves and each other, and meanwhile my brain tried to wrap itself around the fact that just the night before, I watched 10,000 new galaxies get discovered and mapped from the mountains overlooking this cradle of ancient humanity, aka the missile testing range, aka ground zero for the atomic bomb testing. 

The petroglyphs are exquisite and tender, following the contours of the rocks, the occlusions of the sun amidst the landscape, faces directed towards the cosmos or the desert wanderer. We went looking for them, but we had to leave quickly because the explosions, too close for comfort, were beginning to hurt too much. 


The team spent the past two days in fieldwork with the marvelous staff of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey at Apache Point Telescope, observing the mapping of distant galaxies. 

Throughout it all, embraced by chilling 40mph winds on a 10,000 elevation peak that overlooks the precipice: Ciudad Juarez femicide sites, the Air Force Base, and the White Sands MIssile Range, and the atomic bomb detonation's  Trinity Site down below. I am learning a lot about the history of light. 

More notes and reflections (!) and observations (!!) to follow, but for now some snapshots from our overnight galaxy gazing. For more photos, visit the apache point album at my site bumblemoth

  the aluminum galaxy maps for the Sloan Survey…each hole is a galaxy.

the aluminum galaxy maps for the Sloan Survey…each hole is a galaxy.

  my new aluminum plate transgalactic map.

my new aluminum plate transgalactic map.

  supernova processing…

supernova processing…

we have the bright light. 

 liquid nitrogen tanks for cooling the telescope... 

liquid nitrogen tanks for cooling the telescope... 

an attractive apparatus for light looking.

ah, beauty is a valve. 

we are watching you. 

a rack of aluminum galaxy map plates….awaiting their fiberoptics. 

a rack of aluminum galaxy map plates….awaiting their fiberoptics. 

Each hole is a galaxy or a quasar. A lot of galaxies looking out our window…

looking through the galaxies…

trees and sunset, looking out through the galaxies…

galaxy gazing.

sunset over ciudad juarez, white sands, trinity site, air force base, and el paso.

Moses walking out to make adjustments. 

the iris opens at sunset....

and then it opens. 

cooling with liquid nitrogen in the wee hours...

liquid nitrogen handling gloves...

we all have these buttons. some more prominently marked than others. 

sunrise over white sands missile range after a night of galaxy viewing...

sunrise over ciudad juarez, white sands, trinity site, air force base, and el paso. And billions of years ago, the galaxies shine onwards. 

Bones in the Field by

the OHDINBD core team has arrived in New Mexico for a full month of intensive fieldwork at gender-based sites throughout the state and along the border with Mexico.

Being back home after many years away is filled with startling reconnections to my deep psyche (as well as emotio-aesthetic) roots. The muscles are growing back to the bones! 

Here are some snapshots from along the way...a few subtle reminders from the neighbors that out here, death is no big deal. 

- Q