Right now I'm sitting in a Super 8 motel in Lewistown Montana, having just driven 1200 miles. I got here too late and too tired to try to go the extra 16 miles to find the trial I am here to watch, before my cow dog camp starts in 2 days.
Ty is furiously squeaking his woolly squeaky toy that I bought him special for the trip. When he gets tired of squeaking it he brings it to me to throw but half the time as I reach for it he decides he really hasn't quite squeaked it enough.
Drive 1200 miles by yourself with just a big blue dog's head on your knee for company, and you'll have a lot of thoughts. Thoughts go by like miles and scenery, flowing into each other and becoming something else. They move you, they divert you, and finally, you just get tired of them.
The first day, I left at dawn, hoping to get out of the Bay Area, over the Sierras, and into the deep desert. That I did. By the time I couldn't drive any more, I was in Winnemucca, Nevada, a small, dusty, windy town in the middle of one of the emptiest pieces of real estate in North America. The pioneer cemetery is full of Basque names, back when sheepherding was some kind of living for the men who came out to America young and left old, still barely speaking a word of English. There is still an old Basque hotel, where the meals were served on long tables, and the men lived there all winter.
Now it's mainly a mining town (discounting the strip of casinos, chain motels, and brothels). Opals, silver, limestone, and gold. Which sounds beautiful, if you imagine jewelry dripping through your hands. But of course, mining and beautiful don't go together, and in the desert, the scars lie open to the sky forever. It was such an empty town, despite the interstate roaring alongside it, that I had no qualms about letting Ty off leash to ramble along among the bluegray mounds of sagebrush with me; the desert started right outside my motel room. The wind sang in the power lines all night.
The next day was mostly desert too. There's a lot of desert out there. But once I turned northward and headed over the state line into Idaho, I suddenly came to a wide high plain of dry grass, real grass, not just the thin yellow crackly vegetation between sagebrush clumps. Then came cultivated fields of wheat, corn, potatos, alfalfa. Gigantic farm machinery prowled methodically in this fruitful plain, but hardly any actual people were visible. Reservoirs, canals and great spidermonster irrigation machinery produced all this fertility; the hills rose above the plain gray-brown and naked, too parched to even grow bushes, much less trees. And always the same long, dry, singing wind.
Meanwhile hundreds of miles rolled away behind me. I listened to books on tape, and thought about the past. I thought about each of my friends and relatives who were now dead, and how much they were still with me. I thought about my childhood, vividly remembering infinitely long summer days, the peculiar taste sour apples have after you've eaten raw snap beans, and the way the red mud at the edge of my grandmother's pond would squish up between my toes. It stained everything, that iron-red soil of the Sierra foothills. All white clothing soon became faintly brownish pink.
400 miles from Winnemucca I came to rest in Pocatello, Idaho, a bustling thriving college town, which was even more bustling because it happened to be the Sho-Ban Shoshone Pow Wow in Pocatello that weekend, which attracts about 30,000 visitors. Oops. I managed to get a hotel room on the third floor, and counted myself fortunate, as I was far too tired to imagine going further.
Today, another 400 miles, through the northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park, through the deep wild canyon of the Gallatin River, and out onto the magnificent high plains of Montana, a great wheatland. And overhead, the most astonishing display of clouds and sun and rain I have ever seen. The colors of the land, golden and strong blackish green, and the sky, black and white and cobalt, and everything constantly changing. I was enthralled.
But now, I'm frankly exhausted. I feel strange, as I've spent three arduous days perfectly alone, and hardly know what kind of person I am anymore.
Ty is a wonderful traveler, sleeping for hours, rejoicing to get out and stretch his long legs. I love to watch him gallivant about in this panoramic western beauty. He never looked more beautiful and at home than silhouetted against the pale windy grass above the Yellowstone River. He is fond of hotel rooms; he knows they mean the end of traveling for that day. He rolls on the carpet engagingly, and asks for his squeaky woolly toy.