I’ve hopped the Divide and traveled south of home, landing in Gunnison for a few weeks of concentrated writing, trading five consecutive weeks of winter storm warnings for a rolling sage brush chaparral. From the bench where I write, I can see across the valley through floor to ceiling windows to watch cars speeding toward Mt. Carbon and Crested Butte. The highway groans with restless hearts, I think, as I imagine people in their private elsewheres whizzing to some destination.
Ah, the automobile and the American West.
The opening sequence of Brokeback Mountain evokes this mythic western experience as a wide basin fringed by tall mountains is shot through with trucks hurtling through the still-dark morning, small ghosts made infinitesimal by the presence of land. Most people imagine the open road + the American West = Freedom, but for me the real truth of this sequence is in the landscape dwarfing human creation. Despite humans’ pretentions otherwise, we are still specks on the planet, although our species’ determination to destroy it says otherwise.
Watching trucks pass, I think about the bigness of the West, its spaces, its distances. I’ve got a bit of that in my bones—the inherent need for and reverence of space, the idea that I am a tiny part of it all and there are forces so much bigger than me at work inside the mystery. For the record, this is also what I like about storms and living at 8600 feet: weather rules, which is to say Nature has the upper hand.
But back to my romance with the road: There is nothing I like so much about a road trip as the highway stretched out before me. I’ve always preferred traveling by car where I can feel the change in landscape as I go. It’s always caused me a great amount of cognitive dissonance to go to sleep in one place when I’ve woken in another especially if the bridge between them is two or four or ten hours on a plane. My body simply can’t metabolize the difference between here and there without wheels on the ground, without contact with the ground beneath me. My sensibility is too too of the earth.
The other thing about the road is space. My preternaturally busy brain is kept happy watching whatever lies around the bend, while my mind glides along like a raven catching thermals in air. I daydream, I make up stories, I let myself revisit things past, I have conversations with both the living and the dead. There’s a whimsy that takes hold of me and I let thoughts wash up and recede, without the pressure of doing something about them. I become the observer. I take in space.
It’s just past noon and the wind has arrived just on time as I write this. More cars on the road today as the weekend approaches. Overhead, dark clouds drag their skirts over the ridge, moving east. I watch them. Who knows what will happen?