Took a drive the other day, headed north with the windows down and the radio silenced; nothing but wind and road noise to keep me company. It’s been hot here, hotter than usual and I’m not complaining because I see the signs that portend an early winter, the most ominous being topped-out fireweed. I would guess haphazardly that a good 90% of what I saw along the roadside had only the top petals or nothing but glorious pink stalk. The other 10% were just a fistful of color at the very top.
Spent a good hour brushing out some of the undergrowth. I didn’t notice the heat until I stopped. I noticed how much I was perspiring, though, as lifting the long hair off my neck left my hand wet with sweat. You know you’re warm when evaporation is what cools you down in the shade. By the time I decided to take a seat, the slightest twinge of nausea was hitting and so I headed to the truck and the two liters of water I had stashed. The absence of mosquitoes was gratefully acknowledged – who cares if they thought it was too hot, as well; it was nice to sit with the door open and catch a little breeze. Didn’t take long for me to decide it would be a whole lot nicer if I just shut the door, rolled up the windows, and turned the air conditioner on full blast – it was delicious. I laid the seat back til I was darn near reclining, chucked my baseball cap into the seat beside me, and set the sunglasses on the dash. One more swig and I was ready for a brief session of shut-eye. I must have extended it a bit because next thing I heard was a slight tap on the window. I opened one eye to find a bearded fellow peering in at me. I rolled down the window and allowed as how I’d let him speak first since there shouldn’t have been anyone in my neck of the woods on a day like this. Lo and behold, I knew the feller and he was there with a load of rock to improve the primitive road I was blocking. So much for a quick afternoon siesta.
Hitting the highway again, I decided to keep heading north where, 30-some miles later I took a sharp right and left the pavement. I had traveled this section of road so many times, I knew exactly how long it would take me to reach the end at whatever speed I chose. There’d been a few changes made – the bridge had been raised, narrowed, and festooned with signage. The quag ponds where the dogs loved to romp were as I’d left them some years ago, and the little cabin at the end of the road hadn’t changed a bit so I felt obliged to take a picture.
Having accomplished my trip down this memory lane, back I went to the highway. A short distance later, I took a left and headed down a hard-packed dirt road that, come September, will be thick with hunters. It’s already a well-traveled thoroughfare for those with a particular destination in mind, but I wasn’t going that far so took my time. I passed the place where two youngsters, full of drink, tumbled themselves off the side of the mountain on their 4-wheelers. They felt no pain – that day, anyway, and seemed none the worse for wear despite ignoring my advice to get xrays. A week later they trekked into town and were not surprised at the pictures of a shattered cheekbone and somewhat bent collar bone. There was the air strip, lonely and long, a silent place of waiting. Past the fences and the gate, the lonely camp that once bustled with activity, dust clouds absent and a padlock in place. There was a time when I’d taken my banjo and strode out those gates, headed down the road to the river. Not that I needed time alone to play, but that I was so bad I was afraid someone would chuck my instrument in the river before I could practice and make perfect. Ah well, it kept the bears away so I didn’t care. Cross the bridge and take your leisure down by the riverside. There’s nothing better than a shallow, flat-bottomed river on a hot summer day, and I was exactly where I wanted to be after a hundred-mile drive.
There aren’t a lot of places like this anywhere else but here. It doesn’t have to be the West Fork of the Tolovana River where you find peace in the afternoon sun, but it’s as good a place as any if that’s what you’re looking for. Some days I’d take the yellow dog just so she could watch a stick float by. She was easily entertained if you had a tireless throwing arm, but a floating stick was not as attractive as a thrown one, so she was content with the peace of it and rested comfortably at my side. Vigilant as she was, I couldn’t turn and head for the trees without her on my heels, and the panting would begin in earnest: throw the stick, throw the stick, throw the stick, throw the stick! She’d begin to dance and drool, watching every movement of my hands, and earnestly searching my face to be sure she hadn’t misread my intent. Surely I was finding a stick to throw – surely?! Ahh, Annie-girl. Then, you were a pain. Now, I’d give a lot to have you back.
If you started at the Fox water spigot, you might trust the 75 mile marker. My trip begins before then, so I’m not fooled into thinking I’ve only put 75 miles on the odometer this fine Sunday afternoon. It serves, however, as good an indicator as any that the trip can end here as well as anywhere, so around I turn in the middle of the road, a perfect 3-point maneuver. I look down the road leading into the woods and to some cozy home out here in the boonies, one where coffee or tea is seldom wasted and good company is reason to pour. Back I go, through the road construction and the young lass devoted to her 11-miles-per-hour pilot car lead. Back, across the fresh asphalt and oil, down the winding road and up the hills, around corners and dodging the heaves and sinkholes that appear soon after paving. Back to the edge of civilization, speed traps, turn signals and a lack of curiosity for what we pass by.