I still have un-posted images from last summers’ trip. As I wrote here back in September, we’d gone into New Mexico the long way (driving in from Oklahoma). When the time came to return to Oklahoma City, we steered clear of the interstate, electing instead to follow the crumbling remains of Route 66. Ostensibly, we were looking for pictures, although I was the only one taking them.
Admittedly, this was a conscious attempt to take the sort of trip where you’re not sure what’s coming next. That sort of thing still seduces me although it just as often disappoints. Back in the ’70’s it was easier to do this because we hadn’t yet located our commitments. There was no rush in those days because it was a time for lingering.
Nowadays, following the remnants of this historic route calls for an attentive driver. It requires that you navigate safely over graded gravel with only occasional breaks of pavement. I was that driver but I was having my doubts. There can be adventure on the ghost-road, depending on how you define it.
The first day we crossed through some of the most formidable open spaces left on the continent. There was heat which soared like an eagle well beyond 100 degrees. My wife and son occupied their seats in our rattling subcompact. They were gazing out the window while maintaining their trust in the car’s air conditioner. We’d picked up our toy-shaped economy car at the airport and we were now putting it through the ropes.
As you might recall, the southern plains suffered from an outrageously protracted drought last summer. By late August, the prairie was seared. You felt like you were passing over a landscape that had been turned inside out.
A row of mailboxes could be a subject you’d ignore under normal circumstances, but out here on the Panhandle it grabs you by the collar. On the plains, the appearance of ordinary things can take you by surprise. To put it another way: It’s wide open here. The mailboxes have a way of standing out.
Perhaps there are places on earth where all our various artifacts become the metaphors of transience. The plains are well stocked with such visuals–whether they be the boarded-up motels, the dried up gas stations, or the weedy abandoned homes. The mailboxes were in use, but they sure looked vulnerable.
As our trip progressed, it became clear that change was coming.
September had arrived and the edges of the drought were eroding. In Tucumcari we flipped on the TV in our motel room and watched as a large number of storm cells moved onto the weather map. It appeared that the rains that’d gone missing for a half a year were finding their way back home.
The next day, we were never out of view of a thunderstorm. They were everywhere–flashing their sticks of lightning and rumbling across the horizon like dinosaurs. Several times we drove into into a chilly breeze ripe with the scent of ozone, and twice we encountered downpours that lasted for several miles. The rain felt good but it went away fast.
Sometimes when I look at the photograph of the mailboxes I see a lesson in humility. There was a storm coming when I took this picture, and we were treated to beneficial rains.
A lot of people have seen the worse end of what these storms can bring.