Sunday, November 25, 2007

Ten Hours on the Road

We start two hours too late, but I am not stressed. The road is open, the Jeep running like it's 100,000 miles younger than it is, and the Hondo Valley is as beautiful as I've ever seen it, every shade of gold, green, and brown. The music is good, Ryan, Gillian, three Hanks, and Don; the kids are happy and we are having a wonderful time, the first we have had together in far too long.
Outside of Roswell the kids rebel and the country music has to go for a while, we agree on 80s and as we cover the emptiness that is the road from Roswell to Portales I am pleased to find that my kids know the words as well as I do. It's an amazing thing, having kids, they really are extensions of ourselves, little pieces of us that continue into the future after we are gone, carrying our tastes, likes, dislikes, beliefs, loves, hurts, and fears into another generation until, hopefully, passing them on again. I am a king with my court, all yielding me the right of way as we pass through towns named for cattle. Will my grandchildren sing at the top of their lungs to Meatloaf as well? I hope so.
We talk and laugh, give up on music and listen to two hours of Dane Cook's comedy, Emily saying over and over how much she loves that guy. We bet on how long it will take to get to the next town at the current speed (80 mph), and they win Shamrock shakes from the McDonald's in Shamrock, Texas, only to find that they don't do them year-round anymore. They settle for a Dr. Pepper and a twisty cone.
The next hours are subdued, back to country for a while as the flats of western Oklahoma skim by. In Oklahoma City, the sun now down, we race a hottie in a blue Pontiac with California tags, losing her somewhere near Tinker Air Force Base. Emily takes control of the music and I cringe, the generational music drift does not work as well in this direction, but I find that I can sing along to even a song I truly despise (it has only six words, after all) and she soon relents and puts Cake on. My hope for the future is reaffirmed.
At my folks', ten hours after we started, I get out and breath the thick, warm-for-November air, my sinuses reconstitute, and I feel younger. The next morning I wake to the smell of sausage and coffee, two of the most wonderful aromas on Earth, and sit down to eat with my favorite people on the planet, on the fifteen acres of land where I feel most at home, thinking of others I wish I could share this with.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Chilled and Warmed on the Moonlit Plains

It's around two in the morning as we start our bike ride, drunk and a little stoned. The fire was warm, and as we move away from it I realize it's freezing, has to be in the twenties. We start up the highway, "We don't have to go far," she says, but soon we decide to keep going. In spite of the cold, it feels good to be out, to be doing something, and I'm surprised to find that it's easier to ride this two wheeled conveyance than it was to walk a few moments ago. We top the first hill and start down, the increase in speed bringing more of a chill, causing my fingers to burn over the handlebars.
We keep going, turning right at the intersection. At this time of the morning there is almost no traffic, only one car so far, but still I listen, waiting for the sound of traffic that doesn't come. We peddle on, taking turns passing each other, the only conversation being, "Shit, it's cold." The tires, designed for dirt, hum softly on the asphalt as she rides the double yellow, right down the middle, making a game of staying between the lines, and I smile in spite of the pain in my hands.
Another right turn, onto a dirt road, and we start climbing back toward the others, toward the fire. My fingers are numb now, I can no longer shift gears and reaching for the brakes takes all the concentration of threading a needle while wearing oven mitts. We stop and climb off our bikes, and I stick my hands in my pockets, and soon decide that numb in preferable to the searing sensation I feel as my frozen digits begin their painful, slow thaw. We walk for a bit, trying to identify constellations and marvelling at the monochrome landscape in the waning gibbous light. It crosses my mind how quickly things change, not just in our lives, but in the life of this country. A mere hundred and thirty years ago this would have been no pleasure ride, the only concerns being cold and a slipped chain. Then, there were reasons to be afraid here.
Before I'm ready, we're back at what's left of the fire. We resuscitate the primeval heart and warm ourselves, staring into the growing flames, somehow resisting the impulse to reach in, to touch them. Near the remains of the next fire we can see drunks passed out on the ground and in the distance coyotes yelp. Her dog alternates between being the protector and needing comfort, and suddenly this could be any fire, in any camp of the last 10,000 years. How very little we have changed.
One of the drunks rouses himself and comes over to our fire. He tries to make conversation and her dog is all bodyguard now, nothing but growls. We give up on the fire and move away, to set up the tent with frozen hands. We finally climb in and crawl, shivering, into our bags. There is distance, but we are close enough, friends sharing each others breath and warming hands. The dog bristles over us as the coyotes grow louder, closer, crying in vain for their mates.