At the edge of the village of Hedley an asphalt road perks in the heat, as it stretches into distance yet to be traveled. Energy shimmies off the surface, creating a wavy filter which obscures the sober ditches running along each side and belying the still and calm of the surrounding land. Flat-bottom clouds scoot over fields of alfalfa drenched in browns and tans, the sweetness of a once future harvest now withered and crisp. There are few nooks and crannies in which anything can hide. This open place wipes the slate clean, because there is nothing to imagine, little, if anything, that is not exactly as it is seen. There is no mask to peek behind to find hidden beauty. Because of the endlessness of the ordinary, this is a spot where the mind easily folds back onto itself, to a point where thoughts gather, intermingle, are in no hurry to leave and are difficult, if not impossible, to kick out. The secret is to learn how to keep them from all talking at the same time, how to queue the parade so it makes sense as the tidbits float by. A mind that cannot organize and conquer the relentless boredom will crawl out of this place loony, loco, crazy, or, perhaps, not crawl out at all.
To the east of the road is a tree with a massive trunk that has survived the role of lightning rod on more than a few occasions, leaving the trunk smooth and charred in some places, cleaved and cobbled in others. This tree is its own world, its own universe. The ground beneath is hard-packed and bares a subtle reddish tint. If the wind has not blown for several days the ground will offer a powdery pumice-like grit that can be scoured between the fingertips until the skin becomes sore, but a single gust will whisk away the particles and, for a short span, the ground’s surface will have the feel of smooth leather.
Andrea had chosen this spot and was waiting in the shade beneath the tree’s canopy when I arrived. Our meeting was brief, barren of emotion. There were no searing words or scorching tempers. After a few minutes she handed me the ring, already in her pocket, and a letter. I watched her walk to her car and drive away, probably back to Amarillo. I slid the ring over my little finger, sat with my back against the tree, and read the letter.
The branches are pocked with starlings and grackles. They come early, stay late, not unlike alcoholics visiting their favorite barstools. Normally a raucous flock, the birds remained silent and curious, cocking their heads in unison as I crumpled each page and let the breeze push them across the field like little yellow tumbleweeds–rolling, tumbling, skittering out of sight.
In this land of sameness a person can see and smell weather changes long before arrival, but often there is no arrival, only a passing by, like great long-dead herds. At times, one can feel a wind, see jagged flashes and a violet or grey box of rain pounding the horizon, then the storm bucks the laws of nature, leaps over the highlands to the north and hopscotches through the next state, or turns right and drenches the prairies to the south. This land and this tree seem to be able to part the forces of nature. I got into my car, drove the opposite direction of Andrea. Rain may or may not be coming. Distance may or may not be traveled.
Photo by Jauerback