I should've only spent a half a day in the Ozarks, but as it turned out, I was there for a day and a half, all of it on the same 239-mile stretch of road between Clarksville, AR and Oklahoma City (OKC). Three times on that stretch for a total of 717 miles that should've been just 239. The additional 478 miles brutalized me. I felt like I'd been under a meat tenderizing hammer.
Here's what happened. On the 4th morning of my trip back home from Michigan, I left my laptop on the floor in front of the hotel desk in Clarksville, AR. I walked out and drove away. I got all the way to OKC (239 miles later), stopped for lunch, and checked my voicemail in which the desk clerk told me they had my laptop. The work I had to do on the 11th and all this week required the use of my computer, so asking them to mail it wasn't an option. Lunch over, back in the RAV and back to Clarksville. Remember that old Monkees song? Well there wasn't a last train; it was all on me. I'd been having a tough day anyway, so some of the way I cried.
And between tears I enjoyed the autumn colors--a predominance of oak trees in shades ranging from bronze to chocolate, fields of strawberry blonde grasses, golden cottonwoods turning to ochre--the last of the colors before falling. And the birds--eagles, hawks, murmurations of grackels, geese in high southerly wedges. The birds lifted my heart time and again. I was grateful for them and the colors and my friend Catherine who talked to me on the Bluetooth. And of course I was grateful that the laptop was still there. I owe the desk clerk named Karen. These got me through without too many tears. But I was exhausted.
In The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult, Alice Walker asks the question whether you can step into the same river twice. Of course literally you can't. Because the water is ever moving, each time you step in, even in the same spot, it's a different river. Metaphorically she's writing about the aftermath of writing The Color Purple, winning the Pulitzer, and going through the making of the movie--the same river, but not.
Neither is it the same road thrice, becuase the cows have moved from this place to that; the wedge of geese is a different wedge; the leaves have turned yet a little darker. The sun was at my back and dusk was falling, and then it was again at my back, and dawn was coming, as it had the first time.
I was reminded of a trip to Michigan when I was nine years old, and my grandmother was sick, maybe dying. It was November then, too, and we were driving through Missouri, stopped for gas and realized the footlocker with all our Sunday clothes was no longer on the roof rack. So we drove back, and back. Snow fell in curtains , and we children looked out the windows, hoping to spot a rectangular mass out in a field somewhere. Finally we gave up and turned back toward Michigan. We stopped at Sears Roebuck in Joplin, Missouri, probably the biggest store I'd ever been in, and I got my first brand new coat that didn't come out of a mission box. It was rust red and kind of hairy looking and had red buttons with rhinestones in the center. They bought it too big, so I could grow into it.
A day late, I got home and started packing all over again and buying food for the working retreat that began the next day. I decided I don't want to drive long, long distances anymore. Only short explores. The explores can take time, but not so much driving time. I could change my mind. I've been known.