Driving west from Tulsa to Amarillo on a bright afternoon, you can measure the passing of time by the distance the sun travels down the bus’s massive windshield. Every hour or so I pull on the string that lowers the screen that shades my eyes from the glare. By about 7:00 pm, the screen is as low as it will go, and the sun is blinding.
Huge gashes tear the land in that part of the country: deep gorges formed by the tiniest creeks, or flat expanses of bare ground turned over by a farmer. The earth is red there, when the green grass is pulled back or split. Kind of like wounds, or cuts, but not the smooth kind made by scalpels – these are rough injuries.
I think of those who lived in this part of the country long ago, the ones whose land we stole. I think of how their life spilled into the earth. The water standing in the ponds takes on the red color of the soil, looks like pools of clay-colored blood.
* * * * *
I can’t remember ever being able to see so far. The height of the sky seems the same, but out at the horizon, around the edges, the sky looks like someone has stretched it. My eyes are telescopes. I can see small specks of cattle a thousand miles away. Huge power lines rise no higher than the width of my little finger.
It’s easy to feel small out here, where you can drive miles on the highway without seeing a house. It’s easy to feel like the whole world has expanded, and your existence has shrunk. And it’s not such a bad feeling. There is so much pressure on us to feel big, to feel important, that any lessening of this is actually a relief.
* * * * *
A dirt road runs parallel with the highway, and a teenager driving an old Chevy pickup tries to keep up with the highway traffic. Dust billows out behind his bald, anxious tires like the years of my youth: tempestuous and exciting and then settling, diffusing. He surges ahead. Later on, we pass him. He has stopped at a crossroad and is deciding which way to go.
* * * * *
The sun drops below the horizon just as we enter Amarillo, and the sunless sky feels cool against my eyes. We pull into a large parking lot, a day earlier than expected. Maile pops popcorn for the kids and the smell of it fills the bus. We put in a movie. They perch on the couch, all four of them in a row like birds on a wire, cramming popcorn into their mouths.
It’s a late night in Amarillo. The old man is sleeping beneath the bus.