We’ve been in Rockbridge County for a single busy week. It doesn’t feel like home. Not yet. It’s been nearly a decade since either of us lived here. And now, staying with Beth’s parents while we try to scrape together some semblance of a stationary life, it doesn’t seem real. Seems like we’ll throw our things in the truck and head on soon enough. Off again to the next wide, amazing place.
We’re into the gray embers of our year. The last flickers of our wandering. Mostly, it means retracing our steps, sticking close to the Gulf and the fair weather it offers. Revisiting the places we saw in our earliest days on the road. There’s a bitter strangeness to it. A perfect symmetry I could not have planned.
The truck has given us no grief. Or at least, no grief I can’t forgive it for. There was a wheel seal in Virginia. A punctured tire in Portland, Maine. A piddling leak in the air conditioner somewhere outside of San Diego. Hose clamps of one size or another that loosened their grip in one state or another. I’ve kept up with it all. Maintenance, too. Changed fuel filters and oil. Air filters. Did it on the green grass of a Northern New York lawn and in a dusty California driveway.
It’s a long drive from Marathon to Big Bend. Forty empty miles through the northern edge of the Chihuahuan Desert. The two-lane is a scrawl in the scrub and sand, barbed wire and fallen telegraph lines. We’re glad to be out of the mountains. Glad to put the New Mexico snow behind us, but Beth’s quiet as we drive. So am I. I wonder if we’ll love far west Texas the way we did when we came through last April. If it will ignite our hearts.
t’s strange to see our windshield filled with morning sun. Strange to be headed east. We spent a week in Yucca Valley, planning a route and trying to decide what our holidays will look like. Whether we’ll be alone in a sprawling wilderness for Thanksgiving and Christmas, or whether we’ll seek out family, friends, and a roof.
We settled on the latter. My cousin in Los Alamos is kind enough to let us stay with her through Thanksgiving, and I’m glad of her kindness. Glad to have family within reach. This is the time of conclusions. More than the calendar or the clock, I can feel our roaming year coming to a close. We’ll need a home, soon, a vehicle to safely move our family about. We’ll need the things we abandoned when we set off, and a job to pay for them. And more than all of that, we’ll need a place to be. A patch of dirt to plant our feet on.
I’m awake before Kiddo, for once. The sun’s still below the horizon, the sky just beginning to light. I can see the glow through the camper’s canvas, and I’m glad of it. I’ve been up for hours, staring at the dark and wanting nothing but to get up and walk. To go.
I dress as quietly as I can, gather the coffee makings, and step outside. Leave my daughter and wife sleeping. There’s just enough light to see by, and the wide dry lakebed we camped on the night before is still as anything. A dusting of persistent stars stand against the coming dawn. It’s cool, too. The crisp kiss of winter’s out here in the dark, not yet bold enough to brave the daylight.
There’s a valley north of Los Angeles, tucked between the Temblor and Caliente ranges, the teeth of their ridges bare and jagged. It was farmland, once. Before the depression. Before irrigation and industrialization made its way to California crops in earnest. And when the plows had gone, the cattle and the sheep came. Long miles of barbed wire, too. Slowly, the plain between the peaks forgot all about the humans that went.