I knew there would be some choice words for the cars in front of us whenever we next stopped, but the truth is I am glad we were going twenty miles per hour. The rain fell as heavy and hard as the dark and shadows and piercing headlights. They were all in a battle for attention. Nothing was normal. Nothing was average. The Prius’ windshield wipers couldn’t keep up and it was all I could do to see the taillights of Josh’s Elantra in front of me, even at 100 feet. I was grateful for the delineator that demarcated the roadside and guardrails that protected me from the oncoming traffic. As appropriate the first drops fell as we entered The Notch proper and picked up in intensity as we drove north, then passed Cannon Mountain and onward toward Twin Mountain.
Sure enough, when we stopped for gas somewhere to the north, Josh walked over to me as I was swiping my credit card out of the pump: “that twenty miles per hour was a bit ridiculous.” The words were more gentle than I expected but they were there none-the-less.
We migrated northward and despite only Alex (the kind owner of the Prius, who lives near Boston who let me borrow his car) being the only one on the east coast with foreknowledge of my journey, my mother still expected me–glad I didn’t disappoint.
Seventy-five, much like sixty-three, only comes once, but it gets its own gemstone. Even this being the Diamond Anniversary of Nancy’s birth, the decision to travel back east was not easy. No party was planned and COVID-19 travel was not certain. Would I infect my mother? How would I protect her from my travels through major airports? And how to get to Stark: bus, rental car, ride with Josh? Early in the summer I had asked for the time off buy didn’t buy a ticket until late September. Even then my own health wouldn’t be certain until I woke up in the back of my truck just outside of Grand Teton National Park on the 10th of October.
That morning saw a dark, starlit sky and frosty grasses. As per usual I didn’t need an alarm. I rolled over, slid out of the down ensconcement just enough to light the pre-rigged stove before shimmying back into the warmth. The blue flame, licking at the small pot of soon to boil water, illuminated the once familiar, back of my truck bedroom. A box of food, a pair of shoes, and a random duffle bag occupied the space around me. In the distance a truck engine-braked as it descended westward from Togwotee Pass. Dawn was still hours away.
Jackson to Salt Lake to Boston to Newton. Two flights and a Lyft. I was deposited at the foot of a stoned driveway near a towering yellow Victorian on a hill. Surrounded by maples and landscaped plants, it was classic New England. I exited the Lyft, a white, 2021 Honda Pilot, driven by Jason, and bid him adieu before finally pulling off my masks, climbing the driveway, and finding the Prius parked behind the house. I acquired the keys from the planned location, threw my bags into the backseat, and leaned on a railing and ate the remainder of my peanut butter and honey sandwich. Satiated, unmasked, and plenty alert I hopped into the small, blue hybrid and started making my way north.
With some moving of firewood, a short visit with my brother, a few day hikes, and a few walks with my mother, the quick trip home was worth the effort. Despite thinking the entire time that I was infecting my mother–and I was wearing a mask at her house–I did find moments of calm, reflection, and joy. And I suspect she did too. Like forty-nine, seventy-five only happens once, so it seems that being there meant more than any other gift I could bring.
Featured Image: my formative stomping grounds on the stolen lands of the Abenaki and Wabanaki Confederacy as viewed from Devil’s Slide.