As I descend Arizona, actually forced by the sunset to pull over and step out of my car into the warm twilight, I begin to wonder if I will one day feel nostalgia for this experience that I am having right now.
A few days later I am driving through rural eastern Arizona; wind pummeled fields of gold, expansive stretches of pasture in every direction. Pico Iyer wrote, “We travel initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel next, to find ourselves.” I suddenly feel myself reverting back to the former once more. Am I free? This land is incomprehensibly vast and beautiful. Thin wire fences border the highway, always. To keep cows in or me out? My heart pounds fifty miles into New Mexico when I see a guy with a pack walking along the inside of the fence.
At a truck stop, I meet a Navajo hitchhiker who I don’t offer a ride—he seems friendly, though he keeps talking about his DUIs and his time in the Penn (as he explains why he speaks so many different languages). Anyway, I want to enjoy this ride alone.
When I reach Albuquerque, Cheryl sends me to Satellite Coffee, and then I swing up to Santa Fe to visit Kate and eat a lot of good food. A few days later when I turn south to zigzag across the state, I take country roads instead of the Interstate. This means I get to slide back into my solitary meditation among the rippling grains, though it also means I’ll miss two places I wanted to visit—Truth or Consequences, because I am intrigued by the name, and Elephant Butte, for obvious reasons.
These empty roads. Through miles and hours and lifetimes of landscape, wide open fields and pastures, long billowing golden grasses in the wind, occasional cows, I pass a car perhaps once every twenty minutes. Suddenly I see a blue information sign: ROADSIDE TABLE. I pull over at the turnout, and there is a wooden table beside the road–this is the middle of nowhere, miles from the closest town. I sit and write a poem.
East of Las Cruces, just beyond an air force base and a missile range, I arrive in White Sands, NM. As the sun settles into the crook of a horizon-mountain, wisps of golden grasses shiver in the dying sunlight, their shadows reaching across the sands towards the almost full moon rising over the dunes. Of the moon and the dunes, which is the whitest? Which is the largest? Which understands me the best? Which will endure the longest?
BOOBOOOOOM! It’s all gone, my questions shattered by a double explosion that splits the air. I practically drop to the ground as I flinch. Then I see the jets slicing through the sky. A missile test, or a sonic breaking of the sound barrier? Suddenly, I feel unaccountably sad. I look around and all I see is trees and grass and sand and rock and water. How do we turn that into cars and guns and bombs and shoes and pop tarts and supersonic jet planes?