I like long drives.
After dropping my daughter off at college for her second year I cherished the thought of a long four hour drive home by myself. I will miss my daughter immensely and like Demeter I will mourn her absence, but even Demeter must have taken a deep breath each Autumn when Persephone descended to the underworld, and she had a moment to herself.
There are few places in the world to enjoy a moment to yourself like the long highway between Fort Sumner and Vaughn, New Mexico. The empty prairie is a place you can unfold your soul and air it like a winter blanket on a summer clothesline. In fact the surroundings demand you expand your attention to the vastness around you.
Perspective is there, such as the art class definition of the word in the way the two lines lay before you across the land, leaning into each other until they come to a point on the horizon. They do the same thing in the rear view mirror, with little telephone poles ticking off smaller and smaller away into the distance. Perspective is also there in the way the open prairie gives breath and space for reflection you can only find in real solitude.
Warm sky and green undulating hills dotted with cows, sheep, and occasionally antelope. It was about a third of the way across the 54 mile stretch that nature called. If I was a man the choice wouldn’t even be a blink. Out in the open on a lonesome road, every bush is an invitation for a man, but as a woman, delicacy and decorum must be the master and put me in pain for almost another hour. I am 45 years old and I know well enough, decorum be damned. The peace of a non-achy bladder is worth more than dignity when you are alone. The moment I found peace however, was after the relief of my immediate pressing matter.
I took a moment as I came back to the truck and sat there in the warm breeze on the side of the road, I leaned against a post and just listened. I listened to the breeze, and the sky, and the land. Mostly I listened to the quiet. It is a real quiet. Imagine the way the night sky opens up in a place without city lights; it is that in the empty prairie, but for the ears. And the sound of it was beautiful. I closed my eyes and just felt the quiet. The warm breeze rippled through my body. I opened my eyes and saw the sun shimmer the hills miles away from me on the horizon. This is a moment that I will return to many more times in this life.
I got back in the truck and watched as the bugs dodged my bumper as I pulled away from the little pull off on the side of the road. The hills rose and fell with the road and as I was able, I would stretch my view over the horizon to both sides and even behind me. A full 360 of space and only a hand full of humans that I was sharing it with at best. In this day and age that is about as empty a place as you can find.
After I turned at Vaughn it was only a few miles before I saw the wind turbines in the distance. They look so odd out there in the flat open space. They are like pinwheels in grannies garden, and if they were pink and purple I would swear that was what they were. It is as if a giant granny had plopped them down to keep the birds out of her petunias.
This made me think of my grandmother and the farm I grew up on. I thought of the blue latch cabinet in the kitchen filled with canned goods and the view over the field beside the house ringed with flowers and occasional pinwheels. In my mind’s eye I saw her standing there in her nylons, black shoes, colorful dress, hairnet, and apron.
How odd a thing is as an apron these days. My grandma always wore an apron. It was a fixture of her identity. The young women of today have no use for aprons. Occasionally my mother will wear one now, but I find it kind of funny that she does. It is as if she is wearing it as a token of age or to express solidarity with the mothers of our past. She never wore an apron when I was young.
My mom has a few of my grandmothers old aprons still. Who knows, I may wear one someday. I like the idea of them, but they have lost the practicality they once held. In my imagination the canning jars next to my grandmother’s apron have been replaced with Chinese take out boxes and the apron doesn’t fit the picture, except for decoration. It is sad because I think something is lost in that image. Something I would like to give to my daughters, but no matter how I try it isn’t mine to give. It is like telling a story of a story.
By this time in the drive I am heading up familiar hills and can see the houses of Eldorado, NM as I crest and come around a corner. I think of another life where a small house there was a welcome home with hugs and love. Those days are gone, but every experience we have is like a different life we lived. In that way I have lived many lives, because I have many many memories.
I know my reverie is at an end and with each passing mile I come closer to pressing play on life again. My solitude, my thoughts, my moment of peace on the prairie, my memories of my grandmother all of this gets folded back and placed gently in my heart. I look forward to the next time I can take a long drive, unpack my soul and gain perspective again.