Friday, June 24, 2011

Notes from American Roads

27, northern NE, midday, overcast, windy
There are no cars on Highway 27, from Pine Ridge into the Sand Hills. The road is thin and bobs with the hills. The only traveler on Highway 27 is a heavy cow. She has left the pasture and is walking, legally, down the oncoming shoulder. She swings her face toward us, an expression maybe of hesitance, apprehension in a human face, turns and continues south.

41, southwestern Arkansas, evening
I'm alone. I've been driving all day. I have listened to the news, listened to songs, kept singing the songs when the songs were done, sometimes just bass lines, guitar riffs. The sun has finally sunk far enough that there's only a daylit glow.

It's another song coming on that does it, probably Portishead, probably Roads, but I start thinking about death.

And I get that feeling like I usually do, that same feeling as when I close my eyes underwater and just float, a kind of pin-prick wave that washes through my face, every time I think, I mean think what it really means:


The Ouachita Mountains are gray forms building on the horizon to the north. I have an hour or two more of sun to find camp.

River Terrace Park, Monticello, MN, dusk
It is a spring and summer of floods. "Any site 'cept down by the river, ground's still too wet there to pitch a tent."

The old man's pickup is plastered with big letters: "Obama's plan for America is high taxes and socialism" or something. I hold myself awkwardly and feel very "city folk."

We pitch on wet grass by the playground, close enough to the Mississippi to see its flow. It's fast.

There's not much for kindling, but then we notice the drifts of tree pollen against the border of grass and pavement. It's dry, and we throw it on the fire and watch it spark and the light pick up like we'd flicked a switch.

146, East Cape Girardeau, IL, early afternoon, sun
The Mississippi runs inland for a mile or more on the IL side, covering the low ground, an elevation differential lost other times, but now clearly lined out by wet and dry, murky pools pushing at foundational rises of gas stations and barbershops. Sandbags, too. It feels like disaster tourism, but I keep looking and I'm glad I'm here.

Minot, ND, afternoon, partly cloudy
Minot is the Magic City. We drive by the zoo and it's closed, mounds of dead wood, leaves, and plastic marking the flood reach of the Souris River, probably not more than a week old. Later in the month, I'll wake up at home and hear that Minot is under 15 feet of water.

127, southern IL, getting on to evening, humid
Dips and rises in the highway, each dip a stream and a stand of trees, each stand of trees broadcasting the high-decibel screech of brood XIX cicadas. A noise that has made people insane. I cannot see their red eyes and wings, but I know there are millions.

I drive with the windows down b/c there's no AC and it's always better with the windows down, even though it lets the humidity in and my skin is buttered with oil and salt, and the western sun burns my arm hanging out the window. I drive with the windows down and the cicadas are almost loud enough to cover the radio.

2, western ND, early afternoon, hot
A ways past Minot, North Dakota farm country turns hilly, amassed green bumps topped with grayish-white weathered stones. It looks like Britain, without the sheep.

We listen to a podcast about psychedelics, about new scientific experiments. Terminal cancer patients were dosed with psilocybin. They listened to music, they cried. They went home and talked with their mothers and lovers and friends. They came back to debrief, said how it made them feel that EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OKAY. Months later, they died.

We listen in silence.

155, E Texas, afternoon, bright
I am hours into my road trip. The sun is still high but starting to shift southwest. There's a farm on the right of the road, two horses halfway up a little slope. They're facing each other, standing shoulder to shoulder. Necks pigtailed together.


Kathy Amen said...

You can find something interesting about ANY road, an admirable talent!

Anne M said...

I just loved this, Hal!

"You will not see any of this again" took the wind out of me.


hal said...

Thanks Anne!

Candice said...

Agree with Anne, "you will not see any of this again" reminds me of how I felt during my entire Cross-Canada road trip. How can I redo any of it when there's so much left in the world to see?