I caught a ride out from under Dead Bird Bridge with an old man named Dave who wore a cowboy hat and drove a Mustang through the stark insane rolling desert emptiness that was scattered with puddles of tree and gray brush and rimmed on all sides by floating mountain. He left me in Weatland, Wyoming, a little outpost amidst an endless expanse of land that shimmered from waves of heat. I took refuge in the shade of a gas station. The woman behind the counter gave me an old cardboard box that I ripped into sheets to make a sign that said “it’s hotter than a lava sandwich on fire with chili powder.” I steeled myself against the sun and flew the sign on the ramp with a huge grin, laughing with the drivers who read the words, preparing for a gnarly sunburn.
But soon clouds unfurled over the sun. The wind was picking up, a wind that smelled of storm and mountain and spoke of great distances traveled. I dropped the sign and held out pure thumb. The heat fell away as darkness swept across the sky; orange flooded the horizon: glowing mountain smudged with sheets of distant rain. That insane electric pre-storm energy tore against my body in gusts, whipped my shirt against my skin. A great rumble of thunder rippled through the sky, behind a silver streak of lightning that buried itself in distant peaks. A few cold drops brushed my cheeks, but the clouds held their peace, the wind came stronger. A crash of thunder boomed and creaked through the heavens, resounded across the road, resonated through my chest, and as the rumble faded into the clouds, from somewhere beyond a hill, the wail of the whistle of a freight train penetrated the sky. A jagged flash of lightning popped and flickered against the gray. Last night I asked the universe for a shooting star. Give me that sign, I asked as I lay out beneath the darkened glittering sky. It never came. “You asked for a little shooting star,” the universe seemed to be saying now. “But this is what you get.” Everything in life that moves me the most was all of a sudden mounting, all coming together at the same time, and I was ready to laugh and cry and scream, I spun around and around in wonder, taking it all in, the blue-gray sheets of rain falling through bleeding orange light, heavens cracked by flickering lightning and torn by the roar of thunder and the freight train piercing through it all, and me, thumbing on a highway ramp, completely free, a traveler with nothing but a pack, heading on down the road, my presence an integral piece of this unfolding moment. “A shooting star,” the universe said. “No. THIS is my gift to you. See? You don’t even know what to ask for.” And suddenly it seemed that everything I’ve ever hoped or prayed for in my life is a mere shooting star in comparison with what the world has in store for me, and once more my task, as always, is just to surrender to it all and let things take their course. When the sky broke apart and the rain flew in, a wall of huge fat drops, I bolted for cover, laughing and running, rain streaming down my face, puddles exploding beneath my feet. I sat on a wooden picnic table by the gas station until the storm passed, splashed by cool mist as the wind whipped rain around the overhang. When the skies cleared, I prepared to head back to the ramp. I was still basking in the energy of the storm, but then I caught a glimpse of the words jotted on my wrist: BEGIN WHERE YOU ARE.