Transitioning

We took old interstate 90 out of San Antonio and headed westward. It was early in the day, but already sweltering in the 90s by the time we left the congestion of the city and the landscape became ever more spare, gnarled live oak trees giving way to mesquite and then replaced by something even scrubbier tucked between prickly pear cactus and golden prairie grasses.  We began seeing border patrol SUVs parked in the brush, the land curving down and out of sight, the Rio Grande low and invisible, but cutting its ribbon across the desert dividing nations regardless.

We came upon the enormous Amistad reservoir quite suddenly, startled by the turquoise water that seemed eerily out of place among all of the muted golds and browns and sage greens. I stared out of my open window as we drove past, curious as to why the lake felt so out of place aside from its desert surroundings before realizing that the lack of foliage at water's edge defied my idea of a desert oasis. No palms or lushness, simply an abrupt dive from dusty dry earth to clear turquoise water with no transition at all.

Later, we pulled off at a picnic area for a late lunch, surprised when the pull off continued further than expected and ended at the edge of a canyon wall looking down on the Pecos River. This was the old west spread out before our very eyes, the echos of inhospitable land, desperate livestock, skirmishes and lawlessness and a world unto itself, appropriated land and cultural annihilation, all of it flowing down out of its headwaters in the Sangre de Cristo mountains and running through the desert into the Rio Grande. We ate our lunch in awe and then crossed over the muddy, slow-moving water to “west of the Pecos,” continuing to our first chance at gas in over 100 miles in the sleepy town of Sanderson.

The sun was sinking low and the temperature beginning to back away from the triple digits as we entered Big Bend, the Chisos mountains turning ochre in the late light, shadows lengthening over the wide open land. As we drove, enormous jackrabbits and sweet desert cottontails played chicken with our truck tires (a true testament to Justin’s driving acuity that we hit not a single one…I’ve never seen animals so apparently suicidal in all my days) and even a lumbering javelina as it sauntered across the road in no particular hurry. Justin spotted one of Big Bend’s specialties, the Texas Brown Tarantula, but I admit to relief at missing a spider big enough to be clearly identified from a moving vehicle at dusk (harmless, I know, but still…). We gloried in the sunset, the fiery oranges and reds giving way to magenta and then that deep purple-blue just after the sun drops out of sight. We gloried also in the space and the mountains and the sheer exuberance of being alive in such a wild place.

There was sadness and regret in what we’d left behind, both in San Antonio that morning and further back in our cherished community and home in Maine. There was uncertainty and apprehension in the myriad unknowns that lay before us in Reno. But in this moment of transition, this space between before and after, we could simply be two travelers crossing desert and mountains in our journey, in our work at living our lives as fully and richly as possible. We could look out over cactus and cholla and sotol and take the moment as it came, unencumbered by our past or future, comforted by the steadfastness of long-lived mountains and the caprice of ever-changing desert. 

Arrived

We arrived in Reno last night after driving for hours with the jagged, snow-capped peaks of the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains hugging our left side. They are glorious things to behold, those mountains, and between that view and the sound of the Truckee River that I can hear from where I sit writing this morning, I have high hopes for our time tucked in here on the California-Nevada line.

We’ve been on the road for the last couple of weeks, wandering through wide open spaces devoid of much human noise. It’s been utterly lovely to have “No Service” show up on my phone when I reach for it automatically, a gentle reminder to put it down, to look out my window at that big sky, to engage in conversation or companionable silence without distraction. 

In several places along our drive, road signs admonished us to turn off our air conditioning lest we overheat and we realized just how long it had been since we’d rolled our windows down and thrown our arms out into the wind while sliding along two-lane highways at breakneck speeds. How many ways must I learn that insulated comfort is rarely the best path?

I shot hundreds of photos and I will share many of them here over the next few weeks. But I also put my camera down sometimes. There was a night in Big Bend when we’d gone out to photograph the stars in that dark sky where so little man-made light interferes, only to remember that we were mere days from the full-moon, it’s celestial light dimming the stars. So I packed up my camera and instead we stood still in the middle of the road, alone and silent. We looked out over a teeming desert landscape, glowing in the moonlight, and we listened. We heard no cars. Or trains. Or planes. We heard no sounds of man. But over the cicadas and nocturnal rustlings and mysterious tiny crunches, we heard the yipping of coyotes nearby and finally one long, lovely howl at that moon before the pack moved away. It was some time before we could stir from that magic and days before the awe of it faded. 

We are excited to investigate this new temporary home, to see what lies beyond the casino reputation, to cast for trout in this river and rest our cheeks against the ponderosa pines in these mountains. To redefine “home” once again and to do our work, the work of being here, the work of learning and growing and embracing transition and fleetingness.