by Barbara Renner
For four days, I am confined as a passenger in a Dodge Ram long-bed pickup truck hauling a fifth-wheel trailer. My only contact with the outside world is a five- by three-foot windshield and a side window. Here are my observations.
It’s barely sunrise. The western horizon reflects the impending burst of light with a subtle glow of its own. Our headlights aim toward this glimmer, along with other beams, two by two, guiding their occupants down the still-darkened highway. When the sun finally pops, I watch the trees as they speed along, coloring the landscape. Mostly green with yellows of autumn playing peek-a-boo. A smattering of red dots the side of the road. The soybeans have been harvested, leaving a blanket of gold. Dry cornstalks dressed in khaki, who just last month waved their tassels at the passing cars, are all that’s left in the fields.
Watch out, pull over for that gigantic insect, off to tend its crops. “Deere, I think I’ll name it John.” The sunflowers nod to the rising sun, “Good work, sun, our seeds are almost ready for plucking.” Off to the left, dinosaur heads pull wires out of the ground – up, down, up, down – until the earth releases its black gold.
We turn south. No more trees. No more fields. Just flat, brown land with an occasional cluster of cottonwoods guarding a home. Wait. What’s that white movement? Pronghorn sheep frolic, feeding on scrub bushes. Fences constructed from reclaimed wood follow the highway, dutifully waiting for the first snow storm of the season.
The sun rising over the hill burns like a red rubber ball. A new day brings a different landscape. A giant has chiseled lines in the sandstone. Bushes dot the rock like the sprouts of hair on an old man’s balding scalp. The tall brown poles, wires linking them together, start their pilgrimage across the land. How are they attached to top of the rock? Who put them there? Why? The blackbirds conduct meetings on the wires and watch for breakfast on the road.
It’s early morning and the multicolored diesels with their 18 wheels race along the highway to destinations only imagined. The trucks move in tandem to our left, the cars speed beside, and in front of us, the train snakes in the valley to our right. All expected somewhere with loads unknown. A truck stop. Turtle-like cabs painted in a variety of primary colors point their way out of the garages, like horses dancing in the gates, anxious to start the race.
The flat landscape butts up against the mountains. In the haze, they look like blue cutouts that could be easily blown over by a puff of breath. They stand guard on either side of the interstate, confirming that we are following the right path. Ranches spread their green mats at the mountain’s feet. Horses graze, cattle feed, and an occasional wooden barn appears like it’s going to collapse at any moment. The brown totem poles continue to string along the highway, communicating to us.
The granite mounds are closer now. I want to open the window and touch their sculptured faces. Mysterious holes here and there give the rock character. What lives in the tiny caves whittled by time and wind? The river below us carves its legacy.
A big city. Tall buildings. Neon lights. Eight lane freeway. Watch for Exit 59B. A village of homeless gather around a charred building under their cardboard roofs and walls, their only possessions scattered around the grassless ground. Finally, the multilane expressway turns into four that wind through a small town. Suddenly, a huge body of water, a blue topaz mounted in the center of mountain prongs. We glance at a manmade dam. A wonder of the 1930s. The brown totem poles have been transformed into gigantic masterpieces of steel, connected by multiple wires. Colossal women with cinched waists and tiny arms follow each other, stepping over everything in the way.
Arizona. Brown. Dusty. Sage-green. Cholla cacti look so furry, soft to touch, but I know better. The Joshua Tree Forest beautifies the desert. The saguaro spring up unexpectedly. Spires point to the sky with a middle finger. Most give me the peace sign; all is okay; I am safe.
The desert casts its own distinct beauty. Peach, white, and yellow blossoms burst on the tips of barrel cacti. Red leaves abound on thorny bushes lining brick walls. In springtime, green-trunked trees sprout yellow blooms like a soft bob of hair. The sun slowly sinks at the edge of the world and shouts “goodnight,” leaving in its wake a red, orange, and yellow painting across the sky.
If you made it this far, thank you! Can you guess which states we traveled through? Our route to Arizona is an unconventional one.
Barbara Renner and her husband have lived in Phoenix for more than 40 years. As “Sun Birds,” they fly away to Minnesota to escape the summer heat – and to fish. While in Minnesota, Barbara became fascinated with its state bird, the Common Loon, and was prompted to write four picture books about Lonnie the Loon, because everyone should know about loons. However, books about loons don’t sell very well in the desert, so she is writing a new series of picture books about Quincy the Quail. Barbara is working on other children’s books, including a picture book about Trumpeter Swans, which will be launched soon. Her yellow lab mix, Larry, is the wise main character in a work in progress called Larry’s Words of Wisdom. Learn more about Barbara at RennerWrites.com, as well as on Twitter, Facebook, and GoodReads.