Woke to find my knees drawn up to my chest, crumpled in a small space, but cozy under blankets, my head on my pillow. I slept in the cab of the truck. The light woke me, but it’s still early. I close my eyes.
I dreamed I was with Peter, I was helping him with some chore, there was a problem. It dismays me that I am still dreaming of helping Peter with chores.
Morning thought: I have learned everything I need to know for the life I want. No, it’s not true, and it’s arrogant, but there is a sliver of fact in it.
Yesterday I started studying for a ham radio license. With a radio (and a PV setup) I’ll be able to keep up with the news, stay in touch, assist others if regular communication systems fail. I was studying wavelength and frequency before I fell asleep, and it was easy, because I’d learned it all before, from my father, who was a ham, and in college physics courses. From Peter I learned many of the skills, tools, and attitudes I depend on now. From my parents, independence, resourcefulness, self-reliance, perseverance.
Or maybe the converse is true: I’m drawn to do the things my experiences prepare me for. I “want” to live this way because I can. (Maybe!)
There’s no need to get up. There’s nowhere to go and not much to do. (Later – on the third day of this adventure – I will think, “Why would I want to go anywhere? I’m already here.”) Last night I couldn’t get home. There’d been rain – a storm heavy enough to make me pull off the highway. Here, on the dirt roads to home, I’d easily crossed two large flooded sections, but on 7122 an expanse of water faced me that filled the roadway from one side to the other and stretched a good hundred yards ahead. On both sides, cholla and broom reached up from standing water. I’d already taken off my tennis shoes and rolled up my pant legs to check the depth of the ponds I’d crossed. This one reached to my calves and the mud below felt bottomless.
After I’d decided to turn around – not wait till it drained, which might be a very long time, and not spend the night in the middle of the road, either – a white truck pulled up behind me. I met a paunchy, red-faced man – George, the driver and the talker; his brother, smaller, quieter, and more grizzled – Marv; and the stout, bewhiskered Clemente. Neighbors.
Geography has different dimensions here, I’ve found: anyone who lives within forty miles of me is a neighbor. There aren’t many.
George, Marv, and Clemente helped me get my truck and trailer turned around without getting stuck in the muddy verges, and George advised I camp someplace rather than try to get home that day. There are other routes to my place – the “neighborhood” is a crisscross of county and private roads – but one way or another I’d have to cross Hardscrabble Wash, and then the meadow south, where heavy rains make deep ruts. I carry a shovel for that reason – having observed Peter many times making road repairs so we could drive in or out of Reevis – but my shovel definitely wouldn’t be enough.
I slipped my hand out the driver’s side door – I’d left it ajar for fresh air, once the clouds had cleared during the night – and the morning felt cool and fresh and breezy.
It must be a gorgeous morning, I thought, and pushed the blankets away. Not an alarm clock, not a crying child, not work, not cooped-up chickens, not family obligations nor church on this Sunday morning, not even hunger nor bladder pressure, but the idea that it must be beautiful outside got me out of bed.
Tufts of down from my little lavender blanket clung to the seat upholstery and to the red knitted afghan. The blanket has been so well used the past year, down is fleeing through little holes and cracks in the fabric. I keep repairing them with patches of tape, but I’ve fallen behind. When I open the passenger door, white tufts dance in the air next to a sage bush. I watch as they keep dancing, making graceful Brownian movements in space. Down tufts, or insects just as white and fluffy as down? I can’t tell which.
I go behind a big juniper to pee – unneeded privacy; there’s no one in sight. George told me that he and Marv and two more brothers live on the land across the road (they did a nice job of the fence – close-spaced juniper poles and four tight wires), but they own the whole section and the house must be on the far side, hidden by a rise – all I can see on their land is juniper and sage.
The grass, the sage, and the delicate bright green vine growing under the juniper, whose name I don’t know; the broom – in sulfurous bloom – even the little staghorn cholla I step over – all are wet with dew, pearled and glittering with water. The plants must be weeping for joy.
After tying a bandana around my hair as a gesture toward presentability – Clemente on his way home last night had said George might check on me in the morning – I decide to go have a look at the lake in 7122, see if it might be passable now.
A night spider spun a dense web in one of the tire tracks, and ants are already swarming over a drowned beetle, carrying it away in manageable bits. Nature works fast.
Among the tire tracks (two sets for me and my trailer, two for George’s truck), a single coyote track is pressed clearly into a patch of flat mud in the center of the road. Oddly, there are no other prints nearby – did it fly across, only touching one paw to the ground? I find another pawprint lightly pressed into the sand at the side of the road. Yesterday I saw two coyotes: one stood in the middle of the forest road when I left the Sitgreaves forest near Vernon. It stood still as I approached slowly in the truck, and only as I came close did it break into a jog and cross into the forest to the right, pausing often to look back at me as it trotted deeper into the pines. I stopped the truck to watch it go. I’d seen coyotes before but never so closely or clearly. Their ears are unexpectedly sweet like a deer’s. Later that day, another coyote crossed my path – moving the opposite direction, right to left, across the highway north of St. Johns, just before I entered the rainstorm.
On foot this time, I pass the place where George turned around – the arcing V of his tracks – and the similar marks where I turned my truck – and find the stone that I’d set down to mark the water’s edge. My footprints are beside it, continuing past the stone, molded in soft, fat contours where the mud was underwater.
I follow them to the receded edge of the water. I slip and nearly fall, walking too fast. The pond is now less than half the length it was yesterday, probably only a few inches deep – but below it the mud must be deep and soft. A thick cake of stiff clay is attached to the smooth soles of my shoes.
I won’t try to go through here today. I might drive back north, try to get home another way, but that’s a detour of several miles, and odds are I’ll be stopped at another muddy spot or washout. I could stay here another night – spend the day reading and writing in the truck, or go for a hike. Or drive all the way back to St. Johns or north to Sanders for a change, or even Gallup – fifty miles – but there’s no joy in those alternatives. I want to go home.
Last night I told Clemente I wished I’d driven in a couple of hours earlier, before the rain. I would be home now – flooded in rather than out. But then I wouldn’t have met my neighbors, or learned where the road floods in a storm.