A trade

A story.

First, an explanation. I want to thank those of you who have shared your memories, your observations, your pictures of the route I’m traveling in Crossroads. It’s such a lovely thing you’ve given me. Like Blue, I sometimes feel a little alone along the writing road, and the responses were a bit like coming upon a house full of light and warmth, and being invited in for a day, maybe two.

Of course, everything was also very helpful in the more basic sense of scouting out the territory. Thank you.

I’ve been thinking of my own travel stories in response. I really have been a homebody most of my life. Nova Scotia, when I was very young. New England, thoroughly, though much less the urban areas. California, twice, when my grandparents were alive. The second trip I mostly remember stealing my grandfather’s grapes, the ones he insisted weren’t ripe enough (they were), and eating figs off the tree, which were the best things I’d ever had, and which I’ve never ever had again, not off the tree and tasting of sun. The first trip I have no memory of, but it apparently involves me crying in front of a redwood destroyed by fire.

Carribbean islands twice. One touristy, one so quiet that we rode around on borrowed bikes for the afternoon and never ran in to anyone other than flamingos. The trip back involved a massive ice storm, and being stranded in Miami one night and Chicago the next. Chicago, in the height of winter, with me in cloth-soled shoes and no coat. Infer what you will about my traveling smarts.

Some other little trips here and there. None of those are the right one for today. The one I want to tell takes place in Arizona.

I’ve been to Arizona twice. Both times I had a friend living outside of Phoenix, so I had a place to stay, and I was single and young and wanted to DO something. It could have been anything. Arizona was simply what I chose.

To get the full impact, you have to understand that the landscape I knew was New England’s, and the geographic distances I understood came from our small states. At one point on my trip I took a map, marked off a place I wanted to see, and started driving, confident I’d be back in time to pick up my friend from work. Instead, I drove for hours, the mountain I sought never looking in the least bit closer, until finally I turned around and drove back again.

My second trip there we camped outside of Tuscon, a story involving sleeping on gravel, and tents blowing away in a storm, and wandering for hours looking for javelina, and coyotes–our watchful coyote posse, and wanting to stay forever.

But the story I’m looking for is the other trip, the first one, the time we drove up to Flagstaff. The one where I relearned the art of collecting stones, because everywhere we stopped there were rocks that spoke to me, that I needed to pocket in the same way young children do. The trip where we stopped at a cliff dwelling site. Montezuma’s Castle, I think, though the name hasn’t stuck with me.

Again, remember who I was then: a college student, firmly rooted in Massachusetts, in forests full of ferns and moss and brooks. Here I am in Arizona, surrounded by limestone, sandstone, cactus. The birds calls aren’t the ones I know. The air is different. The sky is blue blue blue. And here, below the clifs, are trees, the ones I’ve been missing, and they cling to the banks of a stream, something hidden from me but whose heart I can feel beating when I’m still.

I am still, very. Other people are walking about, pointing at things, talking. I am still. I sit by the edge of the trail and stare up at the homes carved into the rocks, and that emptiness, that sense of “once we were here and now we are gone,” it humbles me. It’s also not unfamiliar, not to a girl who’s spent her childhood stumbling over stone walls and abandoned cellar holes.

I look down for a moment, and there, beside me on a rock, is a lizard. I’ve never seen a lizard anywhere but a zoo before. It is tiny, and its movements are like an electrical current–that smooth, that quick and sharp. I am still, watching, feeling how good this place once was, how the trees, and the water they shade, and the quiet rocks above made a home that was right, at least for one point in time.

The lizard jumps. I see a flash of color, something brilliant. It runs along on its way. Time refolds itself, like a bed being made, and I’m on the outside again, and it’s time for me to go too. Only as I leave, I’m carrying with me the imprint of the lizard, and the limestone, and something more, something about what we build and what we lose, about the things that call us, all of us, no matter where we are.

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