The following is a bit of something which I wrote a few weeks ago. I am looking for some general responses to it. It's not as long as it appears with this narrow setup, so read it and fire away! Thanks a million,
by Nathan Elbert
I open the old road atlas and spread the pages before me. Thin blue lines turn wide and rippled shades of gray stand taller than any mountain in the real world…
Here we are again on the road. Stop at this little rest area and get out. It feels good, doesn’t it? So far from home, out in the unknown, nomadic yet with itinerary. Smiles, friend – this is as good as it gets. No castles nor the domiciles of kings and rich folk, but rather a small building with three vending machines, two bathrooms, and a “you are here” sticker pointing at the little yellow “R” beside the thin blue line on the map of Wyoming labeled 25 on a blue shield with a red stripe reading (microscopically) “INTERSTATE”. Out here there are no limits and those who keep the books of strangeness and wonder closed are put to sleep whilst we page through their library.
Hell’s Half Acre is in Wyoming. Paradise is in Michigan. Dildo Run Provincial Park sits just beside Blow Me Down Provincial Park in Newfoundland. Jupiter isn’t in space! It’s in Florida! Put on your cowboy hats, city folk, you’ve missed the greatest adventure in the world…
Here’s another good one – same building but this time when you get out behind you is a tree hanging thick with kudzu that’s grown over the trees so as to make a big meshy nothingness that is, to be frank, cute. There’s a half-thousand foot hill in the background that’s just cute. Somehow we’re at the far South end of the Smoky Mountains though I don’t think you’ll find too much kudzu in the Smokies (but then again you probably didn’t even know albino moose existed, much less where to find them… Alaska).
Interstate rest areas are paradises found time and again. Watch the thousand miles roll by and the canyons dip and swerve and sing of grace and glorious rivers running rampant in the wild; the mesas stand with pride and platform high as though holding the sky; clouds stamp and smile; and mountains… such a sight. Beauty, beauty, stand up and scream your radiance outwards but for the slopes Northerly deciduous yet Southerly evergreen.
Let me tell you about a few good places.
Murphy Dome is one you won’t forget, if you ever find it. It’s not far south of the Arctic Circle but oh it is worth the trip. No, it’s not that tall, only perhaps three or four thousand feet. It’s a dome, mind you, not a mountain proper. It has a smooth top and is above the tree line of the pristine orgasm known as Alaskan Interior tundra. This tundra is simply a miracle. It is soft, like sponges. It is of lichens and brackens and so it is two feet thick but spongy. It’s a trick to stay upright without sinking in. You can lie on it, there’s no grass, just this soft and furry Earthstuff that’s got to be straight from stardust (in color as well!). It is rife with bright red blueberry bushes. Who’d ever have guessed that the bush of the blueberry is red? Well… isn’t one of the parents of the boy, the girl? You can walk barefoot in the summers on Murphy Dome and feel the tundra squish and sooth your feet as the blueberries leave their gentle stains. Bend and pick up a few berries, there are cranberries as well as a few other sundry sorts. Sit upon the rocks at the top of the dome which stand like the throne of the eternally absent master of this garden. Now open your eyes, child… my god, don’t scream too loud at what you see next…
Two hundred and fifty miles away as clear as day Denali, great Mt. McKinley, rises through the clouds which flagstaff themselves a benchmark heralding their height on it’s summits, slopes, and sides. It is covered in snow and is so far off that it is bluely part of the sky. Don’t cry, turn around. Alaska – flat? Indeed! See the Minto Plains stretch and stretch, four hundred miles on a clear day. And now what are you, my friend? You are a ghost I see who drifts a shadow o’er the land. The cloud… and yes, you look down upon the cloud. Oh it is a sweet cloud too for while it is sunny where you stand, it rains a hard and fun storm where the cloud sits. Walk to the edge of Murphy Dome but don’t walk on down for you’ll then be away from the world never to return… you face eternity, you face frontier. It’s a pink green and a blue purple, it’s the richest palette of candle flames and starlight. A sapphire sky touches emerald Earth but to scrape those jade moments of mountain steeps onto the horizon. Hello thing! Are you a river or a mirror? And see, yonder, that white mulumphuny that moves so gracefully and slow? That is the white moose. He lived too long in the pure and sunny Alaska and turned white! Hey albino moose, watch for the hunter, he may shoot before he knows the white’s of your… flesh.
And no, mulumphuny isn’t a word but things that aren’t become up there.
Five thousand miles away I am standing barefoot in the bright white sand of Florida. The Atlantic doesn’t play with me but smiles and sighs the gentle serenity of a big ocean. Sometimes she screams but who doesn’t (besides which, the good one knows her screams are those of joy)? Sand so smooth that one hesitates to walk on it solely for the sake of not interrupting a miracle art. Oh but if you walk… warm ocean, green and blue and close to you and here’s a fish too. He won’t bite, they don’t, why fight?
Cart back to Colorado, friend, and try not to cry for joy. I think I was born in Silverton sometimes, nestled among the Rockies. There’s no way to describe the mountains in Montana and Wyoming and the good John’s Colorado. You can’t look up and not be awed unless you aren’t human, or so it seems to me. Hey, clear stream, wait for me – I want to wade in you and feel the dark gold rocks on my feet and watch the crawdaddies smile away the sun.
Well now, Wisconsin, it’s been too long. The fog is so thick on this road I cannot see the end of my nose, which does the ego well… and so it is that such a peaceful place does the soul a favor or two. Oh, night! Good night? But an understatement… come here at the wee hours of the morning now and look up. These northern trees have no branches but on their topmost tenths and when the wind blows a gentle whisper of the night they dance and sway and serenade so smooth so soft… the stars are bright and clear and that one there is dancing with the trees! The rivers in Wisconsin are made of champagne because the decaying trees put dye in the water called Tanin, and they say it looks like copper but copper turns green when it meets water and that is the color of the water in Tennessee anyway but here, in Wisconsin, it is gold… golden water! Swim in it, for though colored it is clear. Oh slow waterfall how do you call me? You are so silent through the trees. And a big turtle is in the road and will I run him over or wait for him to move on? Think thus: ‘twas me or my kind that put the road there and so ‘tis his inconvenience as it is, not mine. Go, good turtle, I will wait… I’d rather walk with you anyway.
Float on your back down the warm Wisconsin rivers, wade on your toes in the cool Colorado streams, dance in the cold of the icy Alaska glacial melts… they’re blue, in reality… up close, so much glacial till in them that they are bright blue – as though toothpaste! It is like pristinely pristine pristinity, like incarnate innocence. No, pristinity isn’t a word either, but who cares for words when you can open midnight eyes during the summer and see people playing golf for the sun that never sets and during the winter watch the aurora seduce you with their cuts and moves… this is the starstuff this world seems made of.
(Don’t go back to the city, it will kill you – not the city’s bad, but the lack of the world’s good.)
Well hello my friend! You are a bird, are you not? Have you not learned to fear man – I didn’t think you were a bird for I’ve never seen one before that didn’t fear my sight. I will not harm you, come hence and I’ll feed you from this campfire which I’ve no doubt burns the twigs your nest would have been made of. Don’t I owe you this? Don’t I owe you the world?
Of lacy lines and sublime times as the roads grow and the rest areas pop up. But, alas, I love them.
We pull in to this one in New Mexico and stop. There is sand in the parking lot and the parking spaces are hard to define – just put the van somewhere between that Michiganer’s truck and that Arizonan’s station wagon. Look up, bright sky, look down, bright sand. Around, the hands of time that weather out these mesas and oh heaven are they you’re seventh’s shadow. Look at these little stream beds where the flashflood cut it’s way back into your parched flesh. But you live, a lizard springs across my toes and a snake writhes away happily. Here comes a tumbleweed, watch yourself or you’ll tumble too! Oh the desert makes a pretty sound of storming, such wind through Utah’s arches makes the smoothest sounds if you listen close. Aye… I know. Too many have forgotten to listen at all. And at night don’t you hear the whippoorwill singing her children to sleep? And don’t you hear red robin as he says good morning? Poor birds… we know you for our fear and not for what we’d hear if… we knew you. Yes, little tumbleweed, I love you too. Look at all these little bushes and shrubs so green in so brown a land. Brown? Is it not my skin? I seem to fit in.
I remember a few things. In the strawberry fields in Michigan I stood above those four-inch plants and looked out across the barely rolling almost-hills of the farms; riding on the back of a grunting old pickup watching it kick up dust on the orchard’s gravel road; pulling at a head of cabbage until it pops from the ground twice my size when I was six years old but to send me flying back four more rows of plants; in the car as the downpour pours down and the roof is all the accompaniment any modern band could dream of; sprinting down a two-inch deep twelve-foot-wide Colorado river clearer than any diamond of hope or other jumping off a ten-foot waterfall into the sapphire-blue pool below only to find my self submerged with a fish examining me!
Looking up at the night sky as this big ol’ rock sat on the sky and flamed and tossed the most straight line you’ve ever seen (or, that I’ve ever); the little lodge on the ridge in Colorado looking out over infinity and down over six thousand feet to the ground below; the tree at the top of the world’s highest road; staring into that spectral depth in Wyoming as aptly named Yellowstone slowly bulges up and down; sitting in the old tree as the rain blazed down when lightning comes down just feet away and makes so loud a clap of thunder that I couldn’t hear for five minutes on and screamed in happiness but for the fear of being deaf!; and I walked into the Gulf of Mexico in Clearwater, Florida, and here upon my ankles came none other but a dolphin and as I am whoever I am inside myself this dolphin glanced to me, tipped his hat with a quaint grin wondering if I was there to hunt him, and set about his business. Dolphins are the only other creatures that make love for pleasure’s sake. Wink wink, my dolphin, for I am on your side and would hunt the hunters if it weren’t illegal.
Listening to Gordon Lightfoot and John Denver in the back seat of the old gray van looking out my window at… a mountain. It’s just like that. You can’t put it in words, or at least I can’t. You either see it or you don’t. It’s the gates of heaven and the tearing down of everything bad to see it. It’s the greatest feeling you can’t feel but for to be there.
(Don’t go back to the city, it will kill you – not the city’s bad, but the lack of the world’s good.)
please don’t go back to the city. I can live with an interstate rest area, but why do you need even that? Bathrooms and vending machines are there… the corners of amoebic forests and the blueberries of Murphy Dome.
Waking up to the chimes of a grandfather clock’s sensuous song in grandma’s small, old house to see sunlight coming in through the windows and smell coffee boiling and bacon cooking and grandpa’s pipe smoke hanging light in the woodwork.
Cactus, I think I love you. Your stories hold more water than most people’s!
I am the albino moose, the dolphin, the glacier, the blueberry, the crawdaddy, the golden river, and what’s left of what was once a natural creature named itself Human and children, I can show you things that put what you pursue for pleasure far to rest or augment beyond your wildest dreams… I beg you
don’t go back to the city.