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Creek Running North

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August 18, 2004

Siren song

I used to lie awake in our house in Oakland summer nights, listening to the slap of truck tires on the freeway, slab after massive slab of pavement struck like a white noise gamelan.

Nowadays the Road is farther away, a mile or more on the other side of the hill. Most nights the wind off San Francisco Bay muffles the noise of Interstate 80. My night-time attentions are otherwise occupied, by the crickets or the barn owl or last call at the biker bar around the corner.

Last night at two the wind had died, and though the owl clicked back and forth past the open window, it was the sound of jake brakes howling down the hill miles away that lifted me from sleep.

On my first trip west in 1982, I found myself stuck in Cheyenne, Wyoming as the sun dipped down behind the Medicine Bows. I had hitchhiked there, propelled across the country not so much by a destination as by a desire to leave the place I’d grown up.

Southeastern Wyoming is not the most hitchhiker-friendly place, and the night fell hard and dark. In the twilight, drivers had glared at my outstretched thumb and moved into the left lanes; now they didn’t even see me. I had forty dollars to my name, enough for a bad motel room and nothing else. I also had a twenty-dollar K-Mart sleeping bag in my equally luxurious backpack, so into a field of tall weeds I went to await the morning.

The field was a rough right triangle whose two sides were Interstates 25 and 80, with the Union Pacific trunk line forming its hypotenuse. Even without the mild concern over being rousted by cops, I slept little. Instead I watched the clouds obscuring the stars, my back pressed into the flat western edge of the prairies, leaving a life I hated and on the edge of one I didn’t dare anticipate.

18 wheels times ten thousand times 70 miles per hour eventually sang me to sleep, and morning came as scheduled. The sky turned pale pink and celadon, and a carpenter in a Datsun pickup carted me over the hill to Laramie, where a local cop unceremoniously deported me from the freeway verge, dumping me at the bus station with a suggestion that I be gone soon. Dad wired me some cash after the obligatory minor grumbling. I still didn’t know where I was headed, but I did know my ticket said "San Francisco."

There are origins and there are destinations. Between them is deliverance, and it sounds like truck tires. When I drove through Cheyenne eighteen years later, my field had sprouted an EconoLodge. I stayed at Little America instead. The next morning’s Nebraska bunchgrass stems were a shocking October red. I longed to pull over, lie among them, press my shoulder blades into the earth, and listen as the long-haulers double-clutched around the pine bluffs.

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Comments

Oh, Chris.

I'm so tempted here to lapse into my own reminisces of hitch-hiking and cross-country travel, but I dare not. This is too beautiful for comparison or commiseration.

Posted by: Siona at August 18, 2004 07:14 PM
decorative line of bighorn petroglyphs

Chris, this speaks to me profoundly. partly because i know that little triangle, and partly because i know the heart where this originates. i share it with you...i am a transplant to colorado from a childhood longing in the east. and now my longings draw me ever northward, for colorado feels more like the east than i could have imagined. i must have wide unspoiled horizons. may i print this and paste it in my leather journal?

Posted by: Anne at August 19, 2004 09:30 AM
decorative line of bighorn petroglyphs