Saturday, April 14, 2012

End of the line, end of my rope, end of the world as we've made it

I've started to take the road less traveled a couple days a week now, religiously. And I don't speak about the road in my mind; that was always a strange, meandering path that only I could ever fully be friends with, and I venture down it continually. No, I'm speaking about my now firm habit of driving to the end of the line, just like in that Traveling Wilburys song, only...not in a train.

The road less traveled begins after picking up my daughter from preschool. Her brother's asleep, and I've stopped fighting his habit of dropping out of the bustle just as we go to pick her up. Instead I've taken to ambushing friends to watch the car while I dash in to fetch my little girl. I tell her to be very, very quiet (we're hunting wabbits), and then I throw some snacks and coloring books her way over her sleeping brother's golden head, and we start out.

I have a minimum of 45 minutes to kill. I could park and read, but inevitably my little guy will wake up, and then I'll have to pitch my newspaper aside with all due haste at that first cry and hush and drive, hush and drive, hoping to heaven he falls asleep again. So I drive the whole time. I drive in a minivan with a poor engine, squeaky brakes and a bad turn radius down a promising road, hoping to reach its end and always hoping for a good result. If the road just happens to have a fetching view of my beautiful behemoth, South Mountain, it's a bonus.

South Mountain as viewed from the south

(Yes, I'd probably prefer being home writing during my mischievous toddler's naptime, but it's a no go. He no longer makes the peaceful trip from carseat to bed without turning into a little goblin of malcontent. And I can never do without that peaceful midday break.)

Sometimes I'm disappointed with where the road leads. It ends behind a shopping complex or in the private roadway of some manufacturing facility or it curves and merges with another thoroughfare. Once I was scared, because I took a lonely road west, and I had a fantastical feeling it was going to smack into the side of some sheer and intimidating mountains. Instead, the street merged onto a highway headed south into the emptiness of this desert where the Sonoran plants thin out and things get plain and ugly, and there were no stoplights anymore and no streets to turn around on, only a few fast, soulless vehicles going around my hesitant van. For the world, I couldn't comprehend where they were headed to clutch civilization's last straw. For my part I felt I was being swept away from all human warmth, from my family and my home, led astray out of Phoenix by a highway from which I couldn't escape. On that day, at last, I ended up turning aside onto an Indian reservation's private lane.

Sometimes, though, the buildings drop away, and it's not at all scary when the stoplights become less frequent. The saguaro rears its proud head, other cacti dot the brown earth and the desert scrub kisses the road. The pavement is lonely, and the road noise keeps my young one asleep. Best of best, I'm driving toward more mountains, and I just might reach their flanks before I have to pick up my eldest kids from school, or at least before my baby wakes up. As for my precious preschooler, I glance back her way in the rearview, wondering if she's satisfied with the silence, the books and the journey and whether the scenery captivates her at all.

I found the foothills of South Mountain on a naptime excursion. There the road ends; here the hiking trail begins - no wheels, just feet please.

I had hoped in such a way to approach the mountains behind South Mountain. They little resemble its friendly, expansive slopes. I don't know their names, but I look at them and think Sheer Rock; they rise with purpose from the earth's floor, peaks like arrow heads. Their color is different, less earth tone, more sky reflecting blue. To reach them I began on a fairly young highway which turned into a road with human construction on the north and nothing but desert to the south. Stands of trees with yellow blossoms lined the middle of the divided street, stark against the smoky grey of the mountains and the unusually overcast sky.

I drove west (it's my new east) until I saw an all too familiar reflective barricade with a sign that read The Road Ends and No Stopping. The mountains were still a long way distant, the end of this road several miles shy of my destination - wilderness.

Dad off the ground, way off the ground
On the turn around back to the highway, I contemplated  power lines, their tall towers far removed from the road and their poles adjacent to it. I recalled how my parents told me that on the day Mom went into labor with me, Dad was out seeking work, and he found it in building power lines across these Western United States. That was also the day he stopped shaving and began growing out his hair, because he worked "light to light" and was often exhausted with no inclination to maintain a smooth face or a cropped mane. I never see power lines against the vast open sky or silhouetted against mountains without thinking about my Dad hanging out way above the earth with a smile on his bearded face, about the stories he told of that dangerous work, some hilarious and some sad, and of the great friends who shared it with him. The names of those friends inhabit legend for us kids because of Dad's storytelling.

A drive to the end of the road is a perfect retreat for exploring the wilderness of such memories and reflections. So thank you, my little son...for the nap, the memories and another quiet drive to the end of a line.

1 comment:

  1. You are going native (Arizonan), aren't you, Hoodoo? But that's the way of decent people; folks like you possess an innate ability to connect with the Earth in any given patch, wherever that patch of Earth may be.


I love your comments!