02 October 2010

Long shadows

We left Weatherford OK this morning before the sun had risen over the eastern horizon. Within 20 minutes or so our car was casting a very long shadow on the pavement precisely in the direction we were travelling. While that felt a little strange -- to be following that shadow so exactly, I was surprised by how sad I felt when I-40 changed direction and our shadow moved to run along beside the road, casting a moving shadow over the fields on our right, our two-wheeled silhouette flashing along, popping up occasionally at fences and narrow strips of trees growing in low spots, then going back flat. It seemed to me as though we were touching those fields in some way, leaving a mark -- which, of course, we were not.

Again today the terrain changed with great speed -- Oklahoma, across the plains of the Texas panhandle, well into New Mexico -- Grants, to be precise. There were times that I would have sworn we could see the curvature of the earth when we looked from horizon to horizon. Then, could come stretches with trees lining the road, other stretches with ridges on either side, those ridges being probably a hundred miles away. At one point we travelled in a straight line for 60 miles, each time we crested a rise seeing the road on the rises before and behind us.

Normally, when I'm not driving I tend to fall sleep. (But, then most of the long distances we drive are on I-95, and it's best to sleep through as much of that as possible.) Again today, though, I didn't sleep at all, watching instead, hoping that I'll remember, knowing, though, that everything my eyes were taking in would likely become a long blur before nightfall, if not before. Truth is, the land -- its mysteries and it surprises -- is stunning, beautiful, forbidding, welcoming, vast. Every passing mile opens up something new, reveals wonders.

I realize it has secrets to share, the land. There are stories that could be told -- human and geographical and geological. As we travel along, I cannot help but wish I understood more about how the terrain has evolved over the eons, and wonder how people have survived in the barren, beautiful, lonely landscape. What were their struggles? Did the joys come anywhere near offsetting those struggles? Perhaps my noticing the 75-mile an hour shadow our car casts constitutes something of a nod of acknowledgement to the land and to those people, most of them nameless and forgotten.

Now, as I write about the day and about shadows, perhaps I am writing not so much about shadows, literal and figurative, as I am about how fleeting life is, how limited the actual marks are that we do leave.

Day Three
Three States: Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico
548 miles

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