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.