Go Places Road Trips Issue 6: September
Contributors Jesse Cataldo jessecataldo.com
Marcy B. Freedman Dan Hamilton pocketscraps2.blogspot.com/
Sarah Karstaedt Kim Macron Tiffany Narravo tnavarro.blogspot.com
James Scales Jackie Sherbow Bryan Solarski Amanda Ward
No Fly Away by Samson Clyde Leonard Samson is currently through-hiking the Appalachian Trail and he hopes you like his song. h Cover Design by Gordon Holden Created and curated by Hannah Raine Brenner-Leonard hannahrainebrennerleonard.com
Dear Friends, Road trips are like a postcard. A huge thank you to all our contributors! XO Hannah
Pittsburgh, PA Bryan Solarski
A Way Home James Scales
Out on the center of the slender wooden bridge that extended over the corner of the lake farthest from the student towers, floating on pontoons that looked like they were made out of concrete, he stood alone and looked at the water but the light of the August evening came directly from across the surface and the refringent shades were moving with the glistening waves. He thought there were a few figures in the water. He held a hand above his eyes. One of them waved but he couldn’t see. He waved and walked to the other end. Where the bridge landed there was a small island, divided from the shore by a few feet of water, with a pair of willows growing on the middle. He stopped next to the channel under the shade and looked up. Frail screens of light bounced off the sallow sand of the channel bed and into the dome of leaves, in patterns like the bottom of a pool or at the surface when you are underneath. The draft between the branches washed with the slap of the water and the cries of people in the daylight, like the noise of the organ in the cathedral at Köln, and he swam for a moment in an image of the summer of his childhood. His hands, as he stared up, fell into the back pockets of his shorts and his fingers felt a small piece of folded paper. It was pink and as he uncreased it he saw the silver arch and the number in the corners. For two weeks he had only had enough to buy rice and tomatoes but now he could go out for a pizza, he thought greedily, or the five euro deal at the Italian place, sitting in the yard with carafes of tablewine mit schorle. Absently he folded the money in his palm, already wasted in his mind, almost useless, a burden with palpable weight. He reeled a little, lost in dreams of mental arithmetic, his eyes unfocused as he watched the moving shades. —Entschuldigang! A voice, warm and firm, struck into his vision from somewhere behind. His foot, reaching back to steady, had nearly collided with the leg of someone walking past. —Also! Es tut mir Leid, he said as he turned. The bill returned to his pocket. He looked as she stopped. Ich bin aber so schwerfällig. —Non, she said, courteous but halting, ce n'est pas un gros problème. —Oh no, I’m very sorry, he said. She was pretty, he thought, with short hair cut at the shoulder. Her mouth was quick but small and soft. —Oh, no, she said. I apologize. —Kein Problem. —Oh, she said, I’m sorry, but, where are you from? —Also, rate mal, he said, grinning. —Oh, she said, I don’t really know. She looked away. I thought maybe you are French. —Nee, he said, ich komme aus Amerika. —Amerika, she said, ach so. You must be here as a student, oder? —Yeah, actually I’m here to study German, he said, and English. —You came all the way here to study English? —Well. It’s like a fish has to get out of the pond, he said, indicating the water. Or into the lake. —I see, she said. Would you mind if I asked you a question? Her hair swung with a cadence as they began to walk, transporting towards him a perfume. —Go ahead. —Right, well okay, would you mind if I asked you, who did you vote for in the American election last year, because I think that here in Germany we are very happy that you have done what you have done, I mean, that you have voted for Obama, yeah? —I think Americans don’t really like to talk about who they voted for, he started. But it’s okay. Yes I can say, I did for him.
—That is good, she said. I did not like the one he was running against. Especially here in Germany we feel very hopeful for Obama, that he will do the things he talks about. —I hope so too, he said, uncertainly. But I am a little afraid. I don’t think anyone can really change anything. —But isn’t it such a good feeling to know that someone is in charge who believes in doing things another way? I mean, I think it is important sometimes just to believe. Even his name is so hopeful, Hussein Obama. —Maybe, he said. But we are stuck in two wars and the banks are collapsing. I guess I just hate the kinds of people who recite his slogans all the time, imagining he’ll show up and fix everything all at once. I think it’s dangerous not to be a little cynical. It’s become such a cult of personality, he said, when it comes to his supporters. They followed the path that ran along the water, coming to a group of small mounds that someone had built on the long edge of the shore. At night kids rode their bikes up and down the slopes and in the daytime women lay topless in the sun —Yes, I understand. You know in Europe when we look at the election it is very strange, how they are campaigning for one or two years before they even have the elections. —Yours begin next month, right? —Exactly. We have only one month about to have the campaigning. It is so everybody can still have his or her vacations in the summer. —And whom do you support, he asked, laughing. —I am for the green party, she said. —That’s nice, he said. They walked among the hills in the sun. She looked at one of the benches near the mounds, as though she knew somebody sitting there. She asked him if he liked it by the University. —It’s really quite amazing, he said. I pretty much decided I had to get out of America. I was sick of being at college. Everybody goes there and drinks all the time and just acts like idiots. —Yes, but, she said with a rising accent as she chuckled, everybody in Germany is drinking all the time as well. —I know, he said, but here you can actually have an intelligent conversation with people. You can sit at the cafe and talk to the students. —No, you are being pretty romantic I think. Maybe it is that you have a very nice picture of Europe because you do not live here, and you are only spending time to get away from your home. —It might be so, he said, shrugging. They walked out from the patch of hills and into the open field, where the trees were tall and wide with shade but sparse. —The German students are always getting in trouble, she said, for drinking. You cannot even go downtown some nights because they have closed the streets, because the young people in the bars are leaving broken bottles everywhere. —I did notice that. —And you have young kids in the secondary school, even at fifteen years, who are able to drink because there is a cultural acceptance. And so many of the kids, especially the Türken, or the immigrants from eastern Europe, cannot get into the Hochschule because of discrimination and they all become construction workers, and then they are drinking more and more, you know, when people are poor they want to keep drinking all the time. He nodded in agreement. I guess every country has its problems, he said. —Yes because here in Germany we had the Nazis, she said bluntly, and we still have the problem, because they are still running in elections, especially in the east and sometimes they get enough votes to sit in parliament. It is a very awful thing but we cannot just forget about it. But you, she said, I mean Americans, they had slavery for four hundred years and even before that they had killed all the Indians. Everybody has their massacres. So we are not very different, I think. He nodded. —And what are you doing here today, in the park, I mean, she asked.
—I live just over there, he said, pointing over the water, through the trees. —Ach so, I understand she said, smiling. Wandern zu gehen. —Ja, genau, he said. I’m going to a party later, going to meet meine Freunden. —Oh, she said, slowing, okay. Have a very nice time with your friend, she said. She walked back towards the benches near the hills. The women came over and set a small paper coaster with frills on the edge onto the wooden tabletop. —Ein Bier, bitte, he said, politely. —Ja, gern, und welches Bier? —Achso. Etwas dunkel? —Ja, gut, she answered. He laid the bill on the table and slowly unrolled it. Around him in the terrace at the end of the lake were scattered thirty or so picnic tables. The umbrellas were decorated with logos for Feuerling, the local city beer. Around two sides of the yard ran a low portico, with columns every ten feet and vines twining on the crossbeams. Behind where he sat lines of children waited stamping hungrily with their mothers before a long low building with serving windows and ice cream vendors. The fathers and other old men sat at the tables with thin footed glasses of lemonade and beer, eating long folded sausages and pommes frittes, smothered in mustard sauce, out of paper dishes with little two-pronged plastic forks. Through the columns he could see the lake, pale silver and orange on the side where the sun was dipping, getting dark and nearly black where it lapped on the stone steps that descended below him into the water. The grass on the hill on the opposite end of the lake by the bridge was murky and green, and the deep wall of the trees and shrubs against the western shore was black but silver and orange at the tops from the slanted rays of the sun. He took a long and slow sip from the glass, with the beer running through the foam head into the pocket of his jaw, feeling the bubbles against the bottom of his tongue. It was bad for his teeth but it felt nice. Then he took a longer sip, to get rid of his thirst. It was cold and dark, with a strong flavor that reminded him of cherries. It’s very hard to make jokes in a language you can’t speak, he said to himself, setting down the glass, slouched and full with the savor of the beer and thinking where she might have gone. No one in this country ever introduces themselves. He had been there for a year and they didn’t let you work unless you had the papers and he was tired of waiting by the Studentenwerk. You have to speak well for those jobs unless you wanted to help old women clean out their gardens. Maybe he could work somewhere where he didn’t have to speak. Most of the people he knew were from America or Australlia and they spoke English all the time. He had borrowed from his family, and then everyone else. You learn how to live, he thought, sitting up, but so slowly. Around him the lights in the yard turned on one by one. As he took another gulp he felt a strange spirit sweep over and through him, the influence of a strange and doleful tide in his blood, a sudden knowledge of the certainty that everything, present and passing, was already processed somewhere inside of him, a single flowing vessel of time. He watched himself drink a lengthy sip, as though it had occurred and would again a thousand times. Everything in the world was arranged and inevitable and he could almost see himself, somewhere in the solemn future, waiting for himself. The sun was getting faster. He rubbed his eyes with the back of his hands. He was meeting June and was late. Last time he took a bike but the tires got stuck in the tracks when he got drunk. He shuddered from the cold drink and the light. For a second he thought he could smell a perfume on the breeze. On the hill he saw the flicker of people lighting grills. Voices echoed feebly over the lake, watery and fading on the surface like strings played out of pitch across a harbor at night, the tones chasing against the lights off the dark soft waves. But ripples, in a pool, he thought, laughing abruptly at himself, the rippling notes rubbing off the strident strings. But a ripple cannot resemble a wave no matter how enlarged. And a whisper even if it’s louder is never a voice.
At June’s apartment tonight there was a party and he didn’t ask the girl from class. He struggled against a sudden assault of recollections. Everything was nothing but how you were thinking at the time and circumstance, then it was waiting around, he thought, for a different chance. He hadn’t asked. He didn’t know her name. Life will outlast the liver, he thought, no matter what we believe. He steeled his mind, taking another gulp, to get ready for the night. Life the unlivable, he thought glumly. The old woman came and took his money from the table. She returned shortly and left him a small blue bill and two coins. He left a single coin and took the bill into his pocket, sliding the coin into the small watchpocket of his shorts. The light was almost finished. Swiftly he navigated between the empty picnic tables and walked into the dark trees. The light for the bike was out of batteries again and it took him nearly an hour to get to the apartment. It was cool enough in late summer for a sweater but the walk was very comfortable, over the bridge and along the city canal, which ran in stuttering cascades thirty miles through the night to the French border, filling into the Rhine. When he got to the building there were several groups of students standing outside in the long backyard on the grass or playing volleyball on the sand courts near the trees. At one end of the row there was a student-run bar, a few chairs and a pool table, where they served beer and small cups of wine from a fridge behind the counter. He knocked on the door to June’s kitchen but nobody came. The University was very big and he didn’t know the other students there. —Hat jeder eine Zigarette? he said into a group standing in the yard nearby. —Ja, gern, said one of the men. The top of his head was bald but he had a thick beard, which ended at the tops of his ears. Hey! Wait for a second, are you taking the poetry class, he asked. —Ja, he said. —Oh, cool man. I’ve seen you there. Junatan, he said, offering his hand. —Daniel, he said. Es freut mich. —Here, said Junatan, enjoy this, bending towards him the pack of cigarettes —Danke, said Daniel, lifting one. Haben sie aber eine Feuer? —Naja. Aber, es ist ein Feuer. Das Feuer. Und dies, he said, holding out the lighter, ist das Feuerzeug. And you can say du with us. —Ach so. Cool, thank you very much. —No problem, man. He is American, said Junatan, turning to the group. —Sehr schön, said someone in the crowd. —We are taking poetry together. Liebe, he began to recite ornately, oder keine Liebe, und älter werden... —Very nice, said a girl, clapping. Hast du das geschriebt? —It was I think a Dutch poet from like five hundred years ago, said Junatan. It is really the essence of all poetry, what it should be about. Can I tell you something, he said, turning from the circle and looking at Daniel, I think you are really like a young poet, man, you know? You really got to take advantage of your time here. Like these are your European years! You have to live, he said, and fall in love! The night is all yours man. Go and get laid, he said, laughing and patting his hand on Daniel’s shoulder. Through the crowd Daniel could see June walking from the other end of the yard. —Thanks for the advice, said Daniel, stepping backwards. Vielen Dank, für die Zigarette. He sat on the edge of June’s bed as June went to answer the door. It was a small square room with only a table and a bookshelf and a door into the kitchen. In the corner there was a shopping cart with a small load of laundry drying on the edges. Opposite the door was a window showing the street. It had swung partially into the room and bugs were flying in and out. As he rose to shut the window June came back into the room with two girls. They were carrying a bottle of wine. He knew one of them, Liu, from the grammar class he had taken with June. —Guten Abend, he said.
—Danny, she said eagerly. Come gimmie a hug. Her teeth were stained and her accent, which was normally concealed, had gotten thick. The wine sloshed in the bottle under her arm. She had bright hair and a very warm expression. Please, drink some, she said. Drink enough for yourself. And this, this, she said, is Anika, handing him the bottle. —Hello, he said, shaking her thin and flexible hand. She was tall and wore a long skirt and her hair was cropped in neat bangs across her brow. She could not have been much older, but there was something about the way she stood and gave him her hand that seemed womanly beyond her age. —It is very nice, she said, to be meeting you. Daniel motioned the bottle towards June. —No, he said, I cannot drink. If I drink I will die. —What will you do if you are not drinking, asked Liu. —Learn, learn, and learn, said June. —I have learned enough, now I will drink, said Daniel, sipping —Danny, said Liu, Danny boy will drink. We should have some music. She walked to the computer that sat on a table at the end of the room. I have the best song in the world. Daniel sat on the bed with the bottle in his hands. It tasted like the inside of a balloon he thought. He took another sip and he could feel it in his stomach. —Ah, said Liu, typing on the computer. Yes. Here it is. Billie Jean started to play from the speakers on either side of the desk. —I love this song said Anika. Daniel thought only he could hear her. —I know, said Daniel. He looked at her for a moment. —It’s my favorite, O it’s my absolute favorite, said Liu, beginning to dance in the center of the room. Don’t go around breaking young girls’ hearts. The video played on the screen. Freaking amazing! —It’s a defining song, said June, in the history of music. —That bassline. Have some wine, said Daniel. —I am too old, said June. —How old are you, asked Anika from the corner of the edge of the bed. —June remembers the Berlin wall, said Daniel. That’s why he’s a socialist. Anika slapped herself in the arm, looking up. —There are bugs in here she said. —I noticed, said Daniel. Should we shut the windows? —Leave them open, said June. It gets too hot in here. —Nobody in this country ever uses screens, said Daniel, pointing at the window. —We are not afraid of bugs, like the Americans, said June. —Where is the wine, asked Liu. —The American is drinking it, said Daniel. —At least you are not one of those Australians, said Liu as she swayed in the middle of the floor. When the bottle was finished Daniel gave Liu the money from his pocket and she took Anika to the store to buy another. June found two bottles of beer in the back of a shelf in the pantry. They sat at the kitchen table sipping the warm beer that kept foaming when they put the bottles down and looking out the window into the yard. —I have this weird feeling like Anika is married, said Daniel. —Maybe. I don’t care. —Because you have a girlfriend, said Daniel, knocking his finger on the table. —Yes, but who cares? —I don’t know, said Daniel. Is she coming to visit again? —I think so, said June. I am sorry. I am in a very bad mood. I talked to her today on skype. I think all she wants to do is to have children. She has no ambition. She studied literature when I met her at school but now all she wants to move to the city and get pregnant. —That’s too bad, said Daniel. She is very nice, though, he added. —She is fine but how can I stay with her? I think I am ruining her life. I am way too cold for her.
—Isn’t everything too cold in Scandinavia? —Hey, stop. You too, I think, are very cold. —Maybe. —You are, he said. I’m not being weird, I just noticed. It’s just that you seem formal, like you do not like to be touched. —I’m from New England, he said. And I used to be a Catholic. —No but I am serious. It is very funny, he said. You remind me of T.S. Eliot. —Did you know he could not even piss in front of his own wife? —How cold, said June. The girls came back with a bottle and they sat in the kitchen rolling cigarettes and drinking wine out of coffeemugs. There were more people outside but nobody that they knew. Liu read Daniel’s poems on a website she said. How freaking genial she called them. Anika asked June about philosophy. He came to learn Heidegger he said and Anika said he was a Nazi. There has to be standards said June like in politics and culture we need certain things that are just true. No said Daniel and Liu said no you cannot say that to a poet. They were going for a walk but everyone was sitting on June’s bed again. He was next to Anika and his fingers touched the small part of her back above her skirt. Why are you doing this she asked him in an earnest voice and he said he liked her and she asked why what was special and he didn’t know. He drank from the bottle they were passing. I trust my heart but not my mouth he thought but didn’t have anything to write on. He didn't remember another bottle but they must have bought one from the bar which was against the rules because the wine inside was cold and very sweet. It must be a Riesling he thought gazing at the darkgreen glass which they make around here. It was the Napa of Europe with vineyards everywhere even in the park and the forest reaching up to the city right against the streets and only a bike ride into the country past inns with laurels nailed to the post outside and through villages with Mercedes tractors and statues of Christ in the streets of course because everyone had money. I have always liked those who love me and loved those who like me. She had very stable hips. The south of the country was Catholic because they are closer to Rome. Her skin was warm and it rippled when he moved his fingers but she didn’t move. I would rather be good than successful. It is very popular to make fun of them said June but I think the church is really helping people to fight capitalism. Someone put on Kind of Blue and they sat on the bed telling jokes and when he spilled a little from his mug on the sheets he said mein schlecht and everybody laughed. They were going to go for a walk and then he was waking up. He closed his eyes for a few seconds then he was in the shopping cart. The sun was on its way and the world was dew and gossamer and the cart was rattling down the bikelane. June was pushing but Anika and Liu were walking behind. They had a bottle and kept sipping and when he sat up in the cart they gave him the bottle but wouldn't let him get out. At the canal the water from the hills in the forest was coming down and going to the river and the moisture from the long grass was collecting and made a little fog that their legs were walking in. The officer made them get off he was civil but firm. The bottle was gone. Daniel got out but you couldn't bring a cart on the train and no one even asked where it came from but they got off and Daniel got back in the cart. Daniel was yelling and they were yelling with him Geld regiert die Welt, wer regiert das Geld when they crossed the canal on the bridge and came into the park. Over the trees the sun showed and their faces were hot but their legs were cold. June said hide the bottle. Past them on the bridge as they were yelling came a cargo train on the other tracks and their voices got louder mixing with the chugging clack of the wheels. He yelled at the people they passed waiting for the train our minds are not for sale. He wanted to jump off the bridge right there into the early water but they said it was shallow and there were too many rocks. They got to the outside of his building and Liu said she lived there too but in another tower. Anika said she would stay with her and they asked June. Daniel got out of the cart slowly to not tip it all over. There was nobody else around and they said good night and good morning and Liu gave Daniel a hug and he watched the three of them follow each other into the building.
Driving Stories Jackie Sherbow We are driving in my mother’s new small red car when she picks me up when mine breaks down She always tells the same stories, like about the oleander: it is poisonous, but it creates a barrier between our traffic and oncoming traffic to keep the lights out of our eyes but what if the dogs get to it? and she tells about a horserace over the new bridge on the new highway which was ill equipped, it was not equipped – of course it wasn’t, why would you do a horserace on the highway – horses, riders fell, I think people died, it was in the newspaper, she says I will go crazy for singing at the table she says things like if you’re bored that means you’re stupid and how trick-or-treaters are all celebrating her birthday and there is one story about the ice plant and how it’s there to anchor the dirt and how none of the plants are native to California because it’s a desert after all and what am I supposed to remember after this drive is over besides the name ice plant
ice plant I just keep wanting it to be clear, soft candy but it’s just a plant like it started out as We are driving in the van we’ve had since I was born or in a rental car from the airport that smells like medicine
and my mother tells the facts about the street names, la jolla, Spanish for jewel so there are garnet, sapphire, diamond streets and the roads near my grandmother’s house, bird names, kittiwake, plover, avocet, all sea birds I’ve never seen, and there was one thing about a jacaranda tree but I only know it might be a light shade of purple and maybe it was a bike race and there were no horses at all maybe this should be written down and bound together like sticks or maybe it will never fit together my mother tells me about the door sticking in my car that I’ve had for eight years, as if it’s brand new, as if we are all still getting used to the cold weather.
Apple Sauce Jesse Cataldo We are always hungry; Packs of cookies taped, To the bottoms of our beds; Ring-dings hidden in all the familiar places; Cured, smoked meats, wrapped in black netting, That hang like punching bags, framed in the half light of your bedroom closet. You and I are driving cross country, To see your rheumatic great-uncle, Or Portland, Or the painted hills, And the trash climbs to our knees; Empty soda cans and punctured cracker tins, Like some broad map which has unraveled and will not close. We open the door and this all comes spilling out, Joining the fresh dander of the road. The bags of chips that burst like dandelions, Spilled across parking lots, Dragged by the wind, Snatched up by children and held Carefully in the pockets Of their jeans, Until the crumbs are fine, Mixed with hairs and sand and fuzz. The last three Pringles And the oatmeal pie we shared In the dry Nebraska night, Your head against my chest, Will go out to join the others: The Rold Golds, The M&Ms, Mingling with the clouds Of Cheez Doodle dust that roam the Midwest, Blown fitfully from town to town, Marking the sides of barns And the vagrants who wake, From sleeping in fields, With bent photos in their pockets, Great holes in their shoes, Their faces stained orange.
Maps Hannah Raine Brenner-Leonard We were driving to Marthaâ€™s Vineyard in 1993 to stay in the cottage before the big cliff with Sue Herr. In the backseat we made a tent out of my yellow bunny blanket. Meanwhile my mom yelled desperately at the map. It spread like melting butter across the dashboard. All this was before cell phones. We both had chicken pox that year. I remember my mother stepping outside the car. As if the highway air on her face and asphalt under her feet would show her the way.
Graceland Kim Macron On autumn nights walking on broken slate sidewalks Graceland: we planned Hushed words transformed pools of streetlight Into Memphis skylines Through the winter, we longed for it as we ran away from our house The word took on a different meaning No longer a place But a feeling of strength, of sanctity It grew almost magical A childish way to look at the world, but I loved it I'm not even sure where it sits on a map : Tennessee Hearty southern skies weighed down by the old grey Smokies Graceland: a road trip planned but not taken I still want you to go with me
Without the Brake Sarah Karstaedt When did I stop being fearless? My daughter swerves around curves and corners ignoring the nervous passenger next to her. She has no fear of car crashes, drug overdoses, sexual mishaps. Riding through Detroit and Chicago as a teen, I wanted to dive out of the car onto the crowded sidewalks. Tall buildings, jazz clubs, flashing neon signs reminded me life was passing I need to get there fast, before it was over. My suburban parents couldn’t conceive of my desires or my risky trips with friends. We sought package stores where clerks didn’t check I.D.s and found unchaperoned parties for flirting with boys transformed by booze into rough customers demanding favors. We played at being backseat sluts. I survived a few accidents. Wild rides became less frequent hormones settled. My craving for speed replaced by gratitude for the ordinary. There is no holding back this teenager at the wheel. She will choose where she goes and how fast she’ll get there.
Nature is Ridiculous Amanda Ward We had another hour to go before we reached Grand Junction and I was thirsty. I cracked open my Mango Arizona Tea and took a sip as we rounded a sharp curve on the interstate. An enormous mesa jutted out of the earth about 100 yards in front of us as we came out of the curve. It was all immensity and immovable red stone and, either from its proximity or the suddenness of its appearance, I was startled. I quickly swallowed the cold tea to avoid choking on it. “Holy shit!” I shouted. “What? What happened?” Evan asked as he pumped the breaks on his Ford. “These fucking mountains. They’re just so…it’s overwhelming. Look at that,” I reasoned, pointing at the mesa. “That is ridiculous. This highway is just carved into the side of a fucking mountain.” We had been driving on a back road through the heart of the northern Colorado Rockies for two hours. I am no world traveler, but I thought I knew what mountains were. As we planned our move to Colorado, I had spent hours Googling pictures of the Rockies and every one looked like an advertisement for Poland Springs. They all had the same composition: two tall peaks framing an ice-cold river of snowmelt, with the snow-capped mountain range just visible on the center horizon. Sometimes, in place of a river, there was some sort of wildlife: an elk, a bighorn, a steer. These images exhilarated me as I pictured hiking along a mountain trail with Evan and the dogs, coming ever closer to the distant ridgeline. The reality of the mountains was altogether something different. As we made our way along the gravel “highway” to Grand Junction, we were surrounded by these ancient landforms. Following the rancher’s trail around the side of a particularly large peak, I was no longer exhilarated; I was terrified. The mountain managed to seem close, while reminding me of its great distance. It filled me up with a sense of enormity, while diminishing my sense of place and purpose. I felt like we were no longer moving. We drove on for twenty minutes and our view of the mountain was completely unchanged. And that was the first time I swore at the Rocky Mountains. “Fuck nature!” was what I said. Evan, who had lived in the Rockies all of his childhood, could only laugh at me, and agree that the views were amazing. He didn’t understand. I tried to take a picture with my phone so that I could show him what I was feeling. I set up a shot of the mountain, using my memories of the Google images as my artistic muse, and snapped. To my severe disappointment, the picture captured nothing but the Poland Spring serenity of a mountain view. I was getting anxious, but we continued on to Grand Junction. Two hours later, we were on an actual paved highway that cut through a new series of Colorado wonders: the mesas. I had been swearing and snapping pictures for the entirety of the trip. And then that single mesa came flying up out of the red earth right in the middle of the highway. It was too much. “Amanda, you can’t scream like that. I’m driving a damn car,” Evan warned, laughing at me. I looked back out the window, subdued, and that was the first time I saw the smoke from the Pine Ridge wildfire. I swore again, but quieter. “Oh yeah, look at that,” Evan said. “That must be the other big wildfire.” “What caused this one?” I asked, taking a few pictures of the billowing grey smoke. “I think this one was lightning,” Evan mused.
“At least it wasn’t some idiot chucking a lit cigarette out their window this time.” We had grabbed a Saturday paper before we left for Grand Junction and had read an article citing several different ways in which people had started blazes. Children playing with firecrackers, teenagers flicking lighters…it was unbelievable what some people were getting up to in the dried-up Colorado fields and forests, when the entire state had become an expansive powder keg. After a few minutes we rounded the mesa and had an even clearer view of the smoke. I had learned by now that mountain views are deceiving and I could tell that the fire was still miles away, but it was still intimidating. “Did I ever tell you about the Hayman wildfire? It happened a while ago; I can’t quite remember how long.” I shook my head and looked back out the window. Evan continued. “It started because some lady took some love letters that her ex had written her and burned them in the middle of a fire ban. She started, I think, the largest wildfire in Colorado history.” As the highway merged with the Colorado River, we could see where the Pine Ridge fire had burned all the way to the water line. The cliffs were stained black. A burnt out freight train rested on the riverbank. Some bits of shrub still burned on the ridgeline right across the river from the highway. There were service trucks parked on the shoulder with flashing signs warning drivers not to stop. I took a few pictures, trying to put myself in the shoes of the woman who could find no other catharsis to deal with her divorce than to start a wildfire. As we descended into a valley surrounded by mesas, the fire was no longer visible. Wherever my eyes fell, Colorado granted me a view of geologic history. Layers of sandstone and shale that had formed over millions of years caught the afternoon sunlight. I swore, but Evan didn’t laugh at me this time. His eyes were fixed intermittently on the road and on the mesa to our right. In the center of the mesa there was an enormous rockslide. From the highway, the smaller chunks of rock looked like pebbles. “Each one of those ‘pebbles’ is probably as big as our car,” Evan said. “This is ridiculous…” I said again. “I didn’t know I would feel like this. You can look at pictures of the Rocky Mountains and the mesas and the fires, but you can’t understand what it feels like to be at the foot of a mountain until you actually get there. I feel so small.” “Yeah,” Evan agreed. “It’s weird to think that that mesa has been there for millions of years before humans even existed as a species, and they’ll be there long after the last trace of human existence has disappeared.” “Fucking…nature,” I swore again, and snapped another picture.
Marcy B. Freedman
With cover design by Gordon Holden and music by Samson Cydle Leonard.