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the HAG: Part III: Our Endless Numbered Days

10.23.2012

Did the wine make her dream
Of the far distant spring
Or a bed full of hens
Or the ghost of a friend?

Best American Riverside Manor

On the banks of the Shenandoah (in whose ablutionary waters we had recently bathed), sat this gorgeous specimen of old school American country beauty.

Scene Most like a Thomas Hart Benton Painting

We finally came upon this just outside of (appropriately) Freedom, OK. A gently curving field of red-earth cornrows, the late-summer sun setting through the dust on the horizon, the long-day’s heat subsiding, a farmer on his green-and-yellow John Deere tractor chugging along a row. The light was perfect (as we would later confirm standing in the Hart Benton room at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art—THB was from KC), the weariness kicking in at the end of the long drive to Alabaster Caverns State Park mixing, as we crossed the Cimarron, with a sadness we felt at the last edge of leaving the West behind.

Notes: If Wendell Berry sang falsetto and played the guitar, his name would be Sam Beam.

Best Power Plant

Of the many accomplishments of the Ohio River Valley, one is coal-fired power. The Literary saw at least three during our short drive along the banks of this mighty river along the borders of Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia. This one caught our eye. The J M Stuart Power Plant, located outside of Aberdeen, Ohio, in the midst of some beautiful countryside. Also near Maysville, KY, a pretty little town in black and white, and the childhood home of Rosemary Clooney.

Best Bookstore

Heartwood Books, Charlottesville, Virginia. This was an old-school, classic used-bookstore. Cramped, floor-to-ceiling shelves, books in stacks on the tables, on the floor, a charismatic organization. The owner is behind the desk up front, helpful and cheery if not exactly upbeat about the state of the industry these days. This was the first bookstore we came across that had any books by the elusive William H Gass. We also purchased a Faulkner.

Notes: Make a list of the things we are driving towards—a list of the things we are driving away from.

There are sailing ships that pass all our bodies in the grass.

We can drive for literally hundreds of miles without thinking—of anything but the surrounding America, the sweet nostalgia of the songs over the stereo, the passing fields, farms, forests, mountains, the incredibly wide rivers we are lifted over and suddenly realize that the control of the landscape is theirs, not ours, that relative to the river we are a world apart. This reminds us of train travel, the trains we rode through the smallish countries of Europe, as if sliding through a painting as a worm over a canvas—different worlds, a texture felt, not an amusement-park ride but a calm, comfortable, detached passage through something very real—like a massage that you get but then have to stand up again, go outside into the cold out-of-doors and feel once more the very same aches, and the massage just feels like a break, a small dream in the middle of a large and unfathomable life.

We cross the rivers which are always moving in a direction perpendicular to the one in which we are moving (this is only natural), and we look askance, sidelong—which connotes longing—and think of what it might be like to float down, but as soon as we see this we are across, again on another road, in another state, new trees, clouds, new angles of the sunlight’s shadows, driving for so many hours alone we feel as though suspended, a hum of highway, a steady air circulation, a destination hundreds or even thousands of miles away, an American continent so big we can keep going and going and never find an edge, this womblike web of highway, and we watch the distant landmarks becoming bigger, and sometimes smaller, as we approach, all is relative, of course, to what is beyond the next rise, or next drop.

Love is a dress that you made long to hide your knees.

Okay, so the trip is about suspension. All trips? Like a drug, a sensory overload that momentarily ceases the normal march of time, lets you take a breath, feel permanent. It’s easy enough. We all choose to surround ourselves with things that make us happy, keep us filled. And for some of us, the bigger of a nothing it is, the more it makes us feel like “home.” This seems a negative way of looking at one’s existence.

And looking out what we see (and remember) are the passing lives. These are the images—the series of images—that stay with us the longest, the flashing of scenes from other people’s days, glimpses into local worlds of children and growing up and playing and working and loving and sulking and dying and a thousand other things, little lawns passed with a quick backward jerk of the neck and an excited question—what was that?!, who were they?!—and a return to the road, ahead, still dreaming of all the many possibilities inherent in the flash, instant histories and futures, whole lives—and this is like writing—discovered, lingered over, tasted, and spit out for others coming presently or to come. Extrapolations, rash and ill-informed, and this is looking negatively too, a scene to a story, a color makes a sentence, a motion makes a word. Just a small, square, green lawn, watered with a hose-and-sprinkler, a shower down on dogs and children, plastic bicycles, flowerbeds, cross-streets watched over by old oak trees, houses brooding or bright, parents and grandparents in driveways and in lit doorways, either happy or discontent, there’s no other way.

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