Mom, that's like the third burger place you've passed up!
There are the houses, some farm style, probably erected when this was just farms, fading and falling, some windows shuttered or broken, some still lived in, overgrown plots littered with the broken and the unused, buckets, tools, machines, things that once were crafted to serve a purpose of function or work, left to lie idly by those that either abandoned these places or live idle within. Even the trees, bend down as if tired of making an effort, blossoming each year in the sullied impiety that is a once thriving place that dies through uncaring neglect, its burgeoning, nothing more a bitter and tenacious scrap of another season's memory, than a desire to grow and thrive.
This stretch of highway has been driven a hundred times, yet each drive I notice something different. It's not the obvious, giant "HELL IS REAL" sign (we're on I-65, we already know that) or the XXX Family Restaurant (sorry, when I think "XXX", family restaurant just doesn't spring to mind). Rather, it's an old barn, now razed, it's a river that's left its banks, it's a tiny little cross with a name by the side of the road.
I don't listen to books on tape for these drives. Sometimes, music plays, sometimes it is silent. Mostly, I keep my senses on the road, for this is a treacherous stretch of large trucks, often as inattentive as they are massive. Sometimes you have one in front and one behind and gaining, no place to go if the one in front decides to stop, the Bat Truck only the Oreo filling between several tons of steel, and I retreat to the slow lane, where I'll happily let teenagers give me that "look" as I do the speed limit. I've driven this stretch often enough to know that the opposing forces of a semi's mass and my will if drawn suddenly together, would be a meeting that could be irremediable.
Yes it's flat, but there are roads that stretch and glisten like jewels in hard rain flowing down as if to wash the landscape clean. There are weathered homes and stubborn farms, there is a sudden rise to a river that has carried more than history to its silent end. There are miles and miles of fields, with nothing but corn and fence rows, a barn, and silo jutting up like one of those pop-up greeting cards, set there, flat on the very edge of the earth's table. It's the windy sunlight of space and summer, a morning filled with bells, an afternoon filled with grace, it's the church of God's own creation, as farmers tend to its Host and our history.
There's a time in every trip, no matter how long, where you settle into the drive. As a family, and for my Dad, when we were kids, the driving on our vacation trips seemed almost effortless, as we watched the landscape change from green to brown to mountains and back to brown and we'd hear stories of his youth, of he and Mom growing up together in Montana, the radio off, the only music the sound of my Mom's relaxed laughter, a laughter I can still sometimes hear. For I hear her voice in mine. I'm told we sound alike, and there are days I can crack open the window and the warmth of the wind will blow in and around me, warming my cheeks and the back of my throat and as look up to a contrail that has caught my eye, our laughter will echo in the wide spaces ahead.
I had never in my life been next to an animal that big. He was old, and completely tame, raised by the husband and wife with the restaurant, with a few acres to roam, and enough wild memory to twitch in running freedom in his dreams. I was afraid at first to approach him, almost blind in my fear, but I crept up, drawn by soft eyes the color of earth, and the warm flank. Judging by his breathing, the slow, patient release of air, that great steam engine of sound, I knew he would not hurt me and I reached out through the fence rails and touched the giant soft velvet bloom of nose as he looked back with those knowing eyes, set in ancient bones as enormous as the future, a countenance as powerful as history, as motionless as memory. And we stood there, together, a little auburn haired girl and that lone remnant of a past that's faded to nothing but dust and cornered thought, all alive, yet still alone.
Everything that I might worry about, whether the phone will wake me at 2 a.m., that case I have to finish, a washer that broke beyond repair and needs to be replaced, lies suspended for this time as the sun creeps back inside the earth, driving the shadows forth.
As we near where I will live during the work week, Barkley leans into me, as if recognizing what is going past the window, flowing smoothly from left to right, buildings, and doorways, a small expanse of marsh, each in its ordered place, there in the dimming light. Perhaps he recognizes those things as we draw near. Either that or he is listening to something much further away then the small dimensioned vehicle we are riding in. Perhaps he only pretends to be listening, because, in his heart, he already knows the sound.
I listen too, not just look, to the whoosh of the garage door, to the creak of a door, to the falling into a simple place with old Mission furniture, a framed photo on the shelf and a Cross on the wall, reminding me that I am all alive, but never alone.