Montana & Memories

July 17, 2014 in North America, United States


I woke to the west wind’s whispering.

A ghostly sound: dry, with the faint crackle of sandstone beneath bare feet. Soft, the hushed caress shared by nodding seed heads in the long grass. Hot, like the long shadows cast by the sentinel buttes keeping watch over the prairie. Lonely as the long wide open spaces between towns, between high places, between tiny herds of buffalo, between breaths. Haunting, filled with the ghosts of men on horseback, isolated women hanging clothes on dusty lines, campfire songs, the thunder of thousands of hooves, the high wail of a flute played only for the sky, the echo of drumbeats and dancing beneath the wildest of stars.

Week before last I was I was walking through the enchanted forests of Galicia. This morning I’m rolling past the great stone monuments of Montana. In this one day, more miles will pass beneath our wheels than I managed to put beneath my boots in an entire month of dedicated walking. One of the great sadnesses of rapid transit is that we have the ability to move between worlds so quickly that it’s impossible to adjust properly, to give proper homage to the change in the landscape; to honor a space before it changes.

In just the time I’ve written 214 words the world has changed. We’ve passed out of the flatlands and into the rolling foothills of the mountains yet to come. The dusty stone landscape is morphing into hay fields peppered with horses, cattle and sometimes a few echoes of buffalo past. Forests, some sparse and struggling, others a wild tangle of every shade of muted green, others only the bare, black knuckles of some ancient crone left after the fire swept through, cover the hillsides. A wide silver river, like a flat sidewinder snake, bends between the hills, her scales an undulating ribbon of green on either bank, traveling somewhere I’ll never go. Bee hives are stacked beneath power poles.

Rails bisect the landscape, and the continent.

Empty cars, rusted brown and chipped yellow, wait in silent rows. I wonder if the rails, the metal bands that hold the oceans together, have memory. Do they remember the agonizing pain of being laid? The searing heat of the first wheels to press them into the earth? Do they remember the men whose hands placed and pinned them? The stories they told? The songs they sang? The tears they wept? Do they remember the great herds of buffalo? The soft footfalls of the people who watched from quiet places as the iron horses changed the landscape in more ways than anyone could have possibly counted? Someday I’d like to walk the rails, from coast to coast, and listen to those memories, honor the stories. For today, I’ll be content with watching them and wondering as we roll past.

The wide open spaces of the west always seem to be reflected on my insides.

There is a gaping desolation that invades my soul when the sky gets too big. I suppose this is because I’m a child of the forest, and bay fields. I’m used to having the cover of green things, the comfort of woods and the solace of water within easy reach. It was pointed out to me, recently, that every single place I’ve chosen to live in my life was in close proximity to water, usually walking distance. Even the places where we’ve lived while traveling. The dryness of the deep west parches my soul. And the sky is too big. The endless, watching sky seems to press down from every direction. It is not blue this morning, rather a hazy grey that turns distant hills into specters and blurs the horizon line like oil pastels on a child’s canvas. It feels too heavy, like it’s just too much to carry from dawn to dusk. I want to put it down. The sun is different here too. Scorching is the right word, he seems to be hunting something, or someone; stalking with infinite patience across the great expanse of the dome, forever at an advantage on high ground. Everything tries to hide. Nothing succeeds.

We continue to roll west.

Today is the fifth day that we’ll spend longer than ten hours in the truck. Remind me never to cross the continent this quickly again. Everyone is bearing up surprisingly well. If we have experience with anything, it’s uncomfortable journeys. Having two extra drivers has been a lovely thing. Gabe and Hannah have driven at least half of the miles. Tony has had time to work on the long straight stretches that are least likely to make him car sick.

This morning Gabe is in the captain’s seat and I’m in his chair, the ever so slight shift in roles that is beginning to take place as my kids become adults and I take a back seat to their self direction isn’t lost on me. Tony is wading through some aspect of a database problem for a client on the east coast. That miracle is what buys us our freedom. Hannah is adding colour and ink to a drawing she made over the long afternoon yesterday. She has a thing for drawing the people she loves as squirrels. I’m in this one. Elisha is trying not to whistle. He loves to whistle along to the music. No one else loves it. Ez looks like he lost a bar fight. He dove into the swimming pool last night, in spite of my instruction to the contrary, and scraped the bottom of his face off on the pool. That will look nice in the cruise pictures later this week.

And me, well, I’m trying to cope with the landscape and the pressure of the sky.