by tobias crabtree
Give me the backroads, please. The ones with potholes and pullouts. The ones that make less sense and sometimes swerve to allow the tree to stay.
Yeah, backroads, please. Don’t bother listing them on the apps, just leave them be. Let them be found by real eyes and accidental turns.
And what about that old motel? And the old woman cutting roses in the shade of the cottonwood. With miles of open land on every side. And the sky, sitting quiet, watching the silliness below. That sign that says, No. No wifi. And that makes me laugh because that’s a funny thing to make a sign about. She’d rather be cutting roses than answering that question, so she made a sign for her motel.
Here the road turns in Merrill, like it did in Janesville, like it did in Lakeview. And there is little for the average. But for the looker, oh my, there is so much to see.
The annoying needle on the gas gauge is giving me the news. It’s been a while since any sign of a station and the forward progress of my half-bald tires is threatened by the fuel consumption. My foot is lighter on the gas and the dolphin sways with the cottonwoods and the grass as the wind pushes back. There is Paisley, population of 239. The sun just came up and the town is sleepy. Gas station opens at 8 a.m. The diner says Open. I park the dolphin and get the eye from the two women talking at the drive-thru coffee kiosk. I imagine Mayberry (Andy Griffith’s old town where he mostly kept Barney out of trouble–if you don’t know what I’m talking about, that’s ok. But it’s a T.V. show. Back when t.v.’s had rabbit-ear antennae and a knob that changed channels and only 4 or 5 channels to choose from. Back when black and white television was a thing.) might have been like this, minus the coffee kiosk. Something about that show made me sad and happy, both. I loved that Opie and his dad were walking to the creek with fishing rods while the song for the show whistled along. The episodes were everyday-type things. Nothing over the top. Just regular stuff with Barney being a genius buffoon.
Inside the diner there are 4 men at a table. Jan comes from the kitchen. Coffee and an egg sandwich. Paisley, according to the census has had a -4.0 population change since 2000. The average income is $30,000 or so. Jan is nice and wants me to have meat on my egg sandwich. The 4 men leave with fanfair and jokes for Jan. A woman my age and her father come in and sit. I hear the old man talk, he’s a product of Paisley. His views are apparent. His jokes are easy to read and his daughter is patient as he speaks in circles. I begin to wonder if all old men are destined to be the same. I drop into my memories and picture the middle-age fellas with peculiar cars and hairy ears, and the Me of now would have been one of these fellas to the Me of then. So will I be the old man with circular speak? And who will be patient as I follow my own footprints, looping in circles through the thick timbers of my darkening mind? Yikes! I shake my head and pay. Goodbye to Jan. Goodbye to Paisley. The dolphin has gas by 8:05 and the road goes on swervilly.
The Doyle grade goes up by Lost Creek where the brook trout are like 10 inch footballs. They are fat and full of lightning. I’ve pinched down the barbs on my hooks so they don’t cause unnecessary damage to them bony little mouths. The stream flows from some source and bounds down through the granite and the chaus and across my shins. The wind speaks in smell. I am tripping through my thoughts about being, about my being in particular. I wonder how many bodies these molecules of water that I’m touching and drinking have been through. What dinosaurs have guzzled these same atoms of Hydrogen(2) and Oxygen(1)? And of the wind. How many trees have these winds been through? Who last breathed this air? Bobcat? Bluejay? Bristle-backed boar? And the smells are colorful and the colors are songs. This is what the senses are for!
I’m not a middle-aged man. I’m not a boy. I’m just an organism in the middle of a giant organism. I am moving to and fro. The world around me moves inside the system to which it belongs. And that system swings on the Orion arm of the Milky Way. And this galaxy dances with Andromeda, while something bigger moves beyond my comprehension. I can’t comprehend it but I see it’s shadow flickering in the corner of my mind. I am wondering. I am everything that ever was. I am absolutely nothing at all.