Sometime, between about 55 and 60,
I THINK OF THIS as I motor across the valley floor on what is a now-familiar route. Back to the east, a few shafts of morning sunlight slip over the mountains and under a low ceiling of clouds. In moments, the promise of daybreak will be gone, absorbed in the velvet layer of moisture that blankets the region and renders the landscape gray. The morning is not warm, but it is not cold. I am in the midst of a netherworld – a neither-this-nor-that environ – similar to the one separating last night’s wakefulness from sleep. It’s a good thing I know this road.
I wonder, as I advance into the next turn, if Aunt DaVonne is somehow in a netherworld of sorts: unwanting of the oxygen tube forcing the breath of life into her, but equally unwanting of the alternative. Today, I’m told, for the third or fourth time in the too-recent past, the device supplying O2 will be removed. “Can’t keep the tube in there too long or the lungs will forget how to function.”
MY MIND WANDERS to the netherworld – the ill defined place between the here and now and the somewhere else. I wonder who populates this undefined place: who they are, how long they might stay, where they might be headed; but mostly: are they still with us?
THE ROAD RISES from the valley floor and into that low blanket of cloud cover. Its cloak thickens. Then, after a distance, as the pavement twists and sweeps upward, the mantle disappears. The fence is gone, too. Ascending, I pass the familiar concrete dam on Putah Creek and its reservoir, then through stands of valley and blue oaks and thickets of scrub. The road dips into pastures of golden grasses recently laid flat by the rain. The land here is sectioned off. More fences. Country folks scratch livelihoods, raising dry vineyards or irrigated pasture or, maybe, a Christmas tree farm. A paintless, weathered barn balanced on an ancient rock foundation and its attendant cattle shoot faces the highway. Back from the road a distance, a derelict Atlas moving van with faded lettering and an artful curve to its prow provides covered storage for silage or equipment. Primitive, scrabbly dirt roads exit to the left and right of the pavement, curling around knolls and into hidden and, perhaps, enchanting homesteads. Each one is gated to protect what’s in there from what’s out here.
Topping a ridge, I find slivers of blue sky, but only slivers. Thin cirrus ice crystal arrays, harbingers of tomorrow’s storm, already lace the highest atmosphere. Though the temperature has slightly risen, when I snap closed the Shoei’s face shield, my breath fogs the damned thing up.
I stop to wipe it clean, pull out my word processing device and begin to type these words. Kind passersby see the BMW propped at the side of the road with one pannier open. They pause to ask if I’m okay.
I am, I say, thanking them.
THIRTY MILES AWAY, a loved one has, by now, been freed of her ventilation. She is no longer in the netherworld between self-supported breathing and not. I hope to see her in the next hour or so, but wonder if somehow, we might have passed along the way this morning.
Then, damn it all, I think about the thinning herd of which I am a part and realize: Auntie DeVonne is, too.
Church of the Open Road Press