Thursday, October 28, 2010


Sometime, between about 55 and 60,
the herd begins to thin itself.
And it’s the herd I’m in.

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.”

I EXHALE THROUGH MY NOSE and the inside of my Shoei helmet's visor fogs. The road disappears. Riding blind at 55 to 60, I push upward on a tab to crack open the face screen. The condensation melts away. Again I see the muted colors of the mid-autumn landscape. The valley’s beauty subdued. Its aromas of fermenting grass stubble and derelict melons have soaked into tiny, leaden water droplets that fall to the ground. A fence line parallels the road. Its wooden posts, once erect, tilt at odd directions, bases rotted away, suspended by the strands of wire the posts, initially, had been engineered to, themselves, suspend. Two hundred yards west, the fence disappears. But it never goes away. For as long as I choose to be aware, the fence continues, always disappearing into the gloom. Always two hundred yards ahead.  And I smell moisture.

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.

© 2010
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. watched my mother for 14 hours without the assistance of was a peacefuland eneventful moment when she finally passed yet it was unexplainably disturbing. It was bigger than the actual event. A strange moment of time standing still. Time ceased to exist for her as I know it and also for a brief instant...... for me.
    I am sorry for your loss

  2. Clarification: Time hasn't quite stood still yet. Upon my arrival, "Auntie DeVonne" was smiling, and though unable to speak due to ten days of intubation, delighted to accept visitors on a limited basis.

    The woods she is not out of yet are big and foreboding, but, yesterday, she arrived at a bit of a clearing and appeared to be reveling in the sunlight for just a bit.

  3. @ Anonymous - fifteen years ago, I spent dad's last day and a half with him. I felt the same things. But I wouldn't trade those 36 hours for any other experience.

  4. Mr. B,
    Excellent bit of writing!I can feel the road and the Calif. fall and also the sense of loss that is life coming full circle. Good to hear that Auntie Devonne was able to enjoy your visit.

  5. my apologies......not very kind of me to assume she had pasted.....I was very caught up in the moment from a personal reflection point of view.did not mean to be insensitive

  6. pasted????sp.....sorry passed...I am getting old

  7. Dear "An"

    Not a problem. I was afraid she had, as well. Wife is on the phone to "Auntie's" daughter receiving an update even as we speak... errr... type.

    She's still in for an interesting month or so.