It is a long drive into nothing, that is how it feels. We are here on the interstate heading east. We no longer remember why we are taking this trip. The road turns before us like that famous hungry serpent and we bend slightly with the force of it. In the car we smell the damp and penny scent of a machine made of metal. The thermos full of our coffee looks like a cold war shuttle on the seat between us. We ignore it as it rocks and shudders with the curves. The valley we are traveling through, this place between the mountains, the place we are going, is thick with trees. The fur of nature spreads green and dark to the base of rock colored blue and broken with minerals. The road has filled fast with mud sloughs. Brown veins of it pass over the wheels of the car and spill onto the asphalt. It will be impassable soon, maybe tonight.
We are going to a place remembered, a meadow from our time as lovers, from the time before we were spouses. This meadow will be the same as the road no doubt, a mud lake, an enormous puddle. This morning we rose early and made eggs in the drear of another day. Wet, wet, all wet. How long had it been raining? How long since we have seen shadows cast by this weak sun? We can think only of that horrible story from our youth: the girl locked in the closet on a planet with a single day of sunlight. The rain has become an inconsolable weeper and we, in turn, have been filled with its grief.
We had become more and more desperate for work. There was no work and no hope of work, so we decided on a drive. We owned a car, our last valuable thing. An old Scout the color of a dry creek bed. We knew there was enough gas left to get us somewhere else. Was it then that we began to recognize our abandonment, our willingness to desert? We took the car and drove over the tiny rocks of the driveway, making them smaller still. We thought: they will become the sediment of a later age of clay, the negative of distant fossils. We looked at the house, water pouring, spilling over from the gutters. We imagined the sea rising to the doorstep, a future glacial lake that would fill the land between here and the mountains. The drive had sounded almost romantic to us then, with the image of the coming geography in our heads, but in truth it was a verdict. It was the last gasp of the hopeless.
We see a roadside attraction and decide to stop, on a whim, we say, though we hate the phrase. The attraction is a giant glass house on the narrow ridge of the gorge overlooking the highway. A century old, it was built for obscure Edwardian benefits, taking the air or whatever. We take the winding road toward the glass house. It has special scenic markers; they are blue and gold like badges of luxury. It isn’t long to the top. We arrive almost as soon as we decide to go, though from the road the house looked practically unattainable. Maybe it was built to be an optical illusion, we speculate, or maybe our eyes are failing. At the precipice there is blank asphalt square, an oddly precarious parking lot. We stop the car and go to see the house and the view. The house is round; it sits on its outcrop like a zoetrope. The massive rectangular windows are encased in ornamental concrete arches that rise, cathedral like, from the clumps of dandelion and sedge. It is a bunker of viewing. It seems not impossible that it could have served some military purpose.
We walk to the entrance; there is a museum inside, and presumably, an explanation for the building of the house, but we are too late. The doors are locked, the visitor information and special exhibits closed for the season. This season that is not going to end. We become the opposite of the house. We press our faces into the glass and try to construct as much of the interior as possible, the views ignored. The devastating sights of the valley loom like a betrayer at our backs. And in the end they win, of course. We abandon the glass house and turn outward again. The landscape seems impossible in its enormity. For a moment, as we look across river and bluff, there is another dimension, one too many, an unnamable vast emptiness. It is a vertiginous moment and we ground ourselves quickly, stamping into the soft earth with our feet to reassure ourselves. Can we see the meadow where we are going from here? We search. We look for landmarks. But it is grey and dark and like trying to look through two-way glass, there is so much rain.
Back on the highway, we drink the coffee out of the lid of the thermos and take the first of many turnoffs. We consider taking the road for the bridge named for the ancient pantheon, but decide against it. The glass house feels like a mistake now, a stranger who has keep us talking too long. The trees grow ever darker. All those pines are leaking constant rain and building a forest of water. If it were to freeze at this moment it would be a crystal world, a miraculous prism. A distance grows up between us. For the first time we begin, silently, to question the motives of the other for this trip. We wonder, in our separate parts of the cold car, if we are capable of murder. If this drive to our half forgotten meadow is the very last drive. If we are going to be killed. It is something to think of on a drive into the country. We search ourselves for anxiety, terror. There is none. We could manage it, we realize. It would undoubtedly be best.
We hadn’t intended to leave the house forever. We have always been responsible, even if you take into account the days of heavy drinking and fighting in the backyard. We maintained. Bottles didn’t accumulate on the porch to shame us. We ran out of money but we worked hard to avoid squalor. It was crushing work and we grew sick of it. If we don’t return maybe the neighbors, who did not like nor hate us, will sell our things. The woman with the twin girls in fake fur coats and the man with the sad, blond dog will wait a reasonable amount of time and then enter through the side door we have left unlocked. They will divide what is useful between them and leave the photographs and confessional journals. Hopefully, they will know we do not blame them. We had always wanted them to like us.
We take yet another fork on this mud road. On the shoulder, where the gravel rises up to make the road, canals of water rush downstream. It makes it look like we are driving much faster than we are. Like snow, it gives the illusion of space travel. Soon, much sooner than we remembered, we come to the last of the gravel roads we will be traveling. There, in a gate of chain and metal line linked to a post, is a white wooden sign with the word WANTLAND stenciled across it. We release the gate, take the latch from its metal circle, swinging it wide and shaking droplets across the wires. It is an abacus whose every measurement is water. We drive on, careful to latch the gate behind us. We have wondered about this name on the sign for a very long time. Since, in fact, we first discovered it by chance (on a whim) while looking for a place to swim. It seems impossible now that we could ever have wished to be wet, to immerse ourselves in water. We giggle, frightfully, to think of it. When we were looking for this place to swim we found the road and the inexplicable sign. It must be private property but there are no warning signs and never others. We have, in the dry past, wandered for hours through the acres here. It felt so remote. We would stare into the sky and try to breach the blue with our eyes. It was always so clear above Wantland. We would look until we were certain we could see the darkness beyond atmosphere. Not even the jets, with their woolen contrails, would cross it.
We reach the meadow and road ends suddenly, dropping into thick Johnson’s grass and mace-like thistles. In better seasons the meadow is clear, open and bordered by the firs. It spreads like a blanket. But now there is something different. We see in the middle of the meadow something entirely foreign to our understanding of Wantland. It is a building, or rather the beginning, or maybe the end, of one. Where the nothing of our memory should be, there are instead concrete rectangles poured into the ground. They interlock, twenty feet by fifty, an uneven hive. We get out of the car and walk toward them. They are impossible, we know. This season of rain has been long. There has been no time for concrete to set. We know very little about building, but this is obvious to us. And why build? Perhaps it is a ghost structure, a haunt, in the truest sense of the word. In any case, we think, we want a closer look. We approach it unafraid. We want to know what it is doing.
We circle around the structure. It’s wet like everything else. The series of rectangles are open to the sky and filled with new turned earth that is hard and somehow not yet mud. They are the dream of a building. We trace them with our eyes, drawing points above between the drops of rain, assembling the blueprint. When we are close enough to touch the wall we first saw from the edge of the meadow, we see that there is another shape at the center of the compound. In the middle of the fortress of rectangles has been meted out the start of a huge cylinder, a place for a tower. And it is then, at that moment of geometry and imagined fabrication, that we see what the wash of mud in the meadow has left, what the pattern in concrete is for, what we will be building. We stand before it and search the ground for hints, for materials, for confirmation. All around us are flat, smooth stones. The fantasy of some simple mason. And somewhere here, we know now, is also a great glass like the curvature of the earth, a huge lens. It will be in the meadow, we think, in the cushion of soft hay and earth. We must be careful not to damage it while we build. We look up and let the hollow places of our faces fill with water as we imagine it. The most needed construction. The thing that will be inevitable. The consort of the sea that is coming back to this valley. We were right; the rain will not be ending. And we will not be leaving this place. We will be remaining here, where there is work for us, set by some deranged, tenebrous hand. Of course, we say in our minds, we know its shape; a spire for a new ocean that is almost here. A beacon. A lighthouse. We are resting here with the water on our faces but soon we will turn them down, conquer our exhaustion and begin.
Photo By: Alan Stark