Life in the Real Desert: Riding Through a Dust Devil

Photo of dust devil in Arizona Living in the real desert has definitely been an eye opening experience thus far. (Not to mention a chance to clean my cluttered mind of the trappings of too much civilization, which has been an unexpected plus.) Recently the weather has matched my life to a certain extent. A lot of air turbulence, aka wind, has kept the dust and sand in constant upheaval. Quite a number of “dust devils” aka mini cyclones have been created and move across the hardpan floor recklessly ignoring traffic to traverse roads and avenues.

A few days ago, a volcano in Chile erupted. This lava-spewing spectacle occurred twice in a short time period, if I can remember the Facebook notices correctly, and like the Icelandic eruption a few years back, it has affected the weather noticeably. Cooler temperatures, clouds, a lot of gusting wind and heavy showers are making their presence felt in the normally hot area.

Clouds of debris have entered the atmosphere once again and will loom up there for some time. With my sporadic Internet, and no television, I do not know if the event has messed with air travel. The Iceland volcano certainly did; shutting down flights for several days in England and other countries.

Years ago, when I lived in New Mexico with my first wife and our son Donovan (who was a fearless 8 or 9 month old that walked boldly off the end of the settee…repeatedly) sand storms were a regular occurrence and dust devils could be spotted easily.

During one sand storm, according to my white-faced then wife, I was almost decapitated by a whirling sheet of galvanized steel. However, the most spectacular sand storm took place during the filming of a Sean Connery film, “Wrong Is Right.” The film set was in White Sands and a small group of locals were there to watch the professionals go through their paces.

The wind picked up steadily and suddenly, in mid-scene, a white wall of sand could be seen approaching. A park ranger announced over the PA system that if people wanted to leave, now was the time to do it. Along with a number of other locals, the wife, baby and I left, only to be caught up in the advances of the wall of sand.

Before we got into the car, a cameraman on the crew grabbed my arm. Sounding like the epitome of a “surfer” he excitedly asked, “Whoa dude! Is it like this all the time around here? This is so cool!” I agreed and suggested he take cover and protect his equipment as these natural events could strip paint off cars and deliver sand in unbelievable places.

Dust storm picture from Google images

In those days, sand storms were a new experience. I had only ever been through one similar incident a few years previously. A dust storm had roared over the Oklahoma state line and enveloped a small Arkansas town where I was doing drywall work. Purple clouds filled the sky and suddenly the whole world was swirling dust and darkness.


Back to present day and my ride through the dust devil. As I was already fighting against 11 to 17 mph winds, my concentration was more on getting home than on the birth of the mini cyclone up ahead.

For a split second I thought of the Bill Paxton, Helen Hunt film “Twister” and their experiences in dealing with tornadoes. The cyclone grew steadily, from a few bits of debris swirling around to a lot of sand, dust and more debris building up to a small twister about six feet in diameter.

Biking with my eyes squinted against the wall of wind pushing against me I noticed that the dust devil was almost stationary ahead of me. Up to the left of me, it seemed to be waiting for me to pass. As I drew nearer, it began to move into the road. I thought briefly about stopping and trying to get a video of the thing.

It was not going to happen.

The thing was upon me in an instant. Suddenly all the pressure that had been trying to force me back the way I came stopped. The bike and I were being pummeled back and forth. The wheels actually slid sideways for a second or two and the bike began to wobble in the wind.

Luckily I was wearing my prescription sunglasses so the dust and debris did not blind me. Eyes almost shut I could see from inside the small cyclone. I felt a little like the surfer-dude cameraman from the Connery film being filmed in 1981.

“Whoa dude!”

Just another experience of living in the real desert to be savored; riding a bike through a dust devil, aka mini cyclone, and living to tell the tale.

26 April 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

The Abandoned (2006): An American in Russian Doppelgäng-land


Director Nacho Cerdà (Aftermath,Genesis) co-wrote The Abandoned with Karim Hussain (AscensionThe Beautiful Beast) and Richard Stanley (Dust DevilThe Island of Dr. Moreau). The film is a British/Spanish production filmed on location in Bulgaria. A very international film indeed. Unfortunately the film doesn’t benefit from this international blending of talents (or location).

The film begins in 1966 Russia. A Russian family are setting around the dining table eating. They hear a noise that sounds like either thunder or an earthquake. A distant rumbling sound is getting nearer and they can tell that it is a truck. The truck pulls up in front of their house. The father takes a rifle down from the wall and approaches the truck.

Blood is dripping from the bottom of the driver’s door and he cautiously reaches out and opens the door. Inside the truck is a very dead, very bloody woman. In the passenger side of the truck in the footwell are two crying babies.

The film now jumps ahead forty years or to present day (well, present day in 2006). During the opening credits we see a jet flying and landing in Russia. The first time we see the ‘heroine’ of the film is in the airport. We first hear her when she is talking to her daughter Emily on the phone. This conversation escalates into an argument with Emily hanging up.

Our ‘heroine’ then takes a taxi to a building. As she is going up the steps to the building, a dishevelled blonde haired person walks into her. Annoyed she turns to say something and there is no one there. She goes into the building and meets a ministerial type person and finds that she has inherited a farm.

I could go on, but, the pacing of the film is so slow that you don’t get your first scare until twenty-eight minutes into the film.That is how long it takes for Marie Jones (Anastasia Hille) to reach the ‘scary’ farmhouse and see her ‘dead’ doppelgänger. When she meets her ‘dead self’ it is scary and she runs out of the house. Seeing the truck that brought her to the farmhouse leaving she runs after it. Bad move Marie. As it’s in the dark and by a river, she of course falls off a small precipice and ends up in the river. Dead before the first half hour of the film.

Fade to black.

Marie ‘wakes up’ in the house and meets Nicolai (Karel Roden) who explains that he is her brother. Together the two start exploring the house. Both Nicolai and Marie meet their dead doppelgänger’s. Nicolai makes the mistake of shooting his ‘dead’ self, only to find himself shot by his own bullet. Marie forgets this lesson of trying to harm the dead version of herself later in the film. She takes a plank of wood and smacks her double with it. She immediately reels back from the blow and falls down the stairs.

Marie and Nicolai find out through various means that forty years ago their father stabbed their mother and was going to feed them to the hogs. Mum before she died managed to shoot papa and rescue the babies. Putting them in the truck she drove away only to die in front of the peasant family house.

Marie and Nicolai both fight to get away from the farmhouse, but since daddy-dearest wants all his family to stay with him, they don’t have much choice. The film ends with Marie’s daughter Emily saying (in a voice over) that she knew she would never see her mother again and had no interest in following her and finding out what had happened to her. So much for ‘new world’ family ties.

I really could not get into this film at all. It was slow, plodding and hard to build interest in. The main character, Marie did nothing that made me care whether she lived, died, or got lost. Nicolai was even worse. He was so two dimensional I that I thought for ages that he was a ghost.

It was scary seeing the ‘dead’ Marie and Nicolai, the first time. Repeated viewings just got boring.

There was an attempt to do a ‘time cross-over’ device similar to Triangle (2009). And the writers of Triangle might have gotten the idea from this film, if so then Triangle pulled it off beautifully; not like The Abandoned. I don’t have a problem with slow paced films, if they are done well.

Guillermo del Toro‘s 2001 film The Devils Backbone is a slow paced film. Slow, melodic, haunting and mesmerizing. Everything that The Abandoned was not.

The Abandoned was slow, clunky, choppy and dragging. I was hard pressed to watch it to the end. When the film finally finished I felt a lot like Marie’s daughter Emily.

I didn’t care about Marie’s fate either.

%d bloggers like this: