Denver to Montrose, CO – I left Denver with a knot between my shoulders. Heading home when you are unsure of your identity is never easy. It’s like coming home after your undergrad as the shaved-headed-wanderer-who-doesn’t-shave-her-armpits-or-have-a-job kid. Since my armpits were shaved instead of my head this time, I suppose some things were easier. So, as a recent grad from grad school, I did what I always do when I needed elbow room and to have my feet grounded – I decided to drive…back to Washington via Nevada because it was one of five states I hadn’t yet seen. That’s part of the process – when your life stops moving, move your body over the land. Since life wasn’t progressing, at least I was making progress down the road, perhaps unlearning myself a bit. As one friend said, I keep expecting progress with my pain, my situations – sometimes there isn’t any. At least not at the moment. In my case, long days in the car with yours-truly somehow mark a certain kind of movement — progress if you will — and with a stop at a friend’s house along the way, I’d at least keep myself loved and socialized. As all trips, there’s always a we.
The National Weather Service called for flash-floods in the Denver-metro area. I took the back way to Montrose via route 285. It rained all the way to Fairplay where, once again, I always want to turn around because turn-around is __________ . But my shoulders were finally relaxing. I’ve always felt at home between two places. The clouds broke over the San Luis Valley as I dropped into Buena Vista, past the KOA where I’d stayed with a friend last June. They have cabins and horses and incredibly kind hosts. I passed the Coyote Cantina where we’d experienced the worst service of our lives but, due to disorganization, were only charged for our margaritas. I swung south along the Arkansas River, envious of the wet-suited rafters waiting their turn to float, then turned west past Salida to jump the Continental Divide into Gunnison. I wove my way past Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park where we’d hiked through poison ivy and collected mica, mostly focusing the brakes because Colorado doesn’t believe in guardrails. A man in a red jeep pulled out in front of me. I remembered that I wasn’t in the city anymore and kept my hands on the wheel.
I was following my friend’s directions to her little red farmhouse in the country. Turn left at the Baptist church, right at the school. It was quiet when I arrived. My friend had put down the second of her two dogs that morning, the second dog in one week. She showed me to a luxurious guest-room. This woman can host. Fresh carnations sat on the desk, a sweet little package of Kleenex on the nightstand. She showed me the porch where, one day after her first dog, Chester, had died last week, she’d come home to plants overturned and rugs blown into rolls under the bench. It was Chester’s spirit, she believed. A brown bird made a gangbusters dive to a corner of the eaves where there was nothing.
“I think that little brown bird is Stanley,” she told me, the dog she’d lost that morning. Later, when she talked about her job as a rural hospice social worker, the conversation turned back to ourselves, how we weren’t quite where we knew we could be, wanted to be. Me, not a travel writer; she, not a bed-and-breakfast owner. Neither one of us was ready to make the jump.
I slept like a rug in the sun that night. The next morning, she made eggs. To meaning-making, we said and tapped our hardboiled eggs on the counter to crack the shells. The wind blew (Chester) as I left and I wondered which little brown bird was Stanley.