Home to Idaho. In 11 years this is my second time back. It has been 2 years since I've seen my parents.
The bus winding up through southern Idaho, following the path of the Snake River. Huge rolling pickle green and mint "hills" rising sharply up from the river, rolling and towering into each other like petrified cookie dough, dotted with the occasional fierce pine tree, orange and neon yellow low left brushes, and weeping willow.
Tiny fishing boats sideways in the current, fishing in the eddies, skiffs filled with what I imagine to be the proverbial fathers and sons but could just as well be stuffed with old friends, river guides, perfect strangers, or just neighbors. The road climbs into a stand of pine then plummets down into a prairie and I start to glimpse the Idaho I know, that perfect mesh of Palouse, the black rolling fields of lentils and herds of Appaloosa horses (these are imaginary...but I love horses), peeling white painted farm houses, clustered with silo and mossy barn and various levels and textures of rusted farm equipment. Carpet fields of harvested hay and herds of black cattle, desert turned patchwork gold, slowly giving way to mountains, real mountains, pungent bristling evergreen, clear mountain streams, abandoned rail road tracks, startled deer, logging trucks loaded with stacks of new cut pine, and tiny desperate derelict towns that my childhood eyes were so enchanted with.
It is lovely to be back, its almost not real - to see the same landscape with a different prescription on my glasses.
I am an hour away now.
Leaning into the window, I'm typing and fogging the glass with my breath, wondering how many people sat in this red striped blue plush seat, thinking quite predictably about Simon and Garfunkle songs.....I've come, to look for Americaaaaaaaa....(I can't help it!) Conversation from the back of the bus, about Alaska, "I hear you can make big money up their man, North Dakota too, go work in the mines, or get on a boat."
"my cousin got on a boat. Make 14 grand first 3 months."
Across the isle, "Gotta do something, can't just sell drugs, gotta work."
"yeah, gotta do something....."
I tell them about Alaska, wishing it could be their fairy tale too.
Nodding, uncomprehending, I'm a white girl anyway, cans of coke disappearing and the talk drifts around me, prison, girls, one fresh from a sweat lodge, headed to the half way house, the other just out of prison in Texas, 4 days on the Greyhound, hours from home, headed back to the res to a brand new car and a girl that might have waited for him. The other, mostly silent. All of them agree it's better to be in your room playing video games and petting your dog then outside getting into trouble. All of them agree to do more sweats, to go to church, to spend time with the old ones.
I grew up on a reservation, but I still know nothing. I never will. And that is alright. I can never change the color of my skin. I can only give space and respect. I can only realize I don't understand.
I love Americana, in all its crumbling neon vast beautiful littered guts and glory. The buses the trucks the cars speeding insane through pockets of wild windswept emptiness, small towns Ill never know the name of, people Ill never meet living out their lives in peace, misery, love, and struggle. There is nothing like America witnessed from the highway, the dirt road, the gas station. Like the child sprawled sleeping on the blue cushioned bus seat, mother outside with a cigarette, who kept turning and grinning shyly back, peeking over the seat, wide unworldly button green eyes, or the vomit congealing in the sink in the back of the bus, or the man in the ballcap missing teeth, clutching 2 Dr Peppers, talking loudly on his cell phone, "I heard there is opportunity to work in Spokane, you know, I'm going where the jobs are. I'm going to get a computer."
Everyone, including me, has messed up hair in this bus, rumpled clothes, junk food, society of the vagabonds and busted. Where are you all going? Where did you come from? Are you running away or going home? Meeting a lover or headed to a job? What did you look like in your prime? Who did you want to be? Why am I assuming you looked or wanted better? Why can't I stop judging? Who will I be at 50?
Passing windmills and railway trestles, spanning gorges and fast fat creeks, the damp mossy stillness of covered bridges, the way no two trees ever look the same, the way each sunset is unique and maddening, smoky orange, sky scraped by bleeding purple cloud fingers, and I have this manic desire to soak this in, all of it, every color glance thought observation, second. The road brings out something joyous in me, a channel through which to cascade my wanderlust. The lurch of the bus grinding me down to something harder, more basic and sharp and solid.
Did you know that in 1901 after many failed attempts to navigate the river at the bottom of the Black Canyon of the Gunneson, it was finally achieved by two men on a plastic air mattress?
In our own ways - crooked, posh, stark, impromptu, fervently, or feebly, we are all trying to navigate the unknown. We are all hoping the dark unexplored canyons will someday lead us home. And we know that even though the old barn still caves in the same spot and the same aroma is wafting from the fields and trash cans and kitchens, that everything will have shifted, that wrinkles and creases and hatred and sorrow have crept onto high smooth cheekbones, that we have missed moments, that things will never be the bright perfection of memory. But we are going anyway. Clutching our air mattresses and our dreams, we are jumping whooping into raging rivers, washing up drenched and ragged and free on the other side.
Courage packed into sodden suitcases.
This is a spirit that cannot be drowned.
This bus - this is the home of the brave.
This, this is America.