On the drive back I make my kids listen to Townes Van Zandt since it feels like we could be in Texas it’s so hot, everything flat and beaten down by the sun. The songs about places he’d been in the south, Tennessee, the roads between Texas and Colorado, high mountain passes and snow. It’s all in his voice that’s so real but I can rarely make it through a whole record, it wears me down.
The country inspires poetry with its open expanse and rolling hills, old rusted out trucks with For Sale signs long since forgotten, the numbers bleached out by the sun. Jim and I drive to a town called Chewelah to a Safeway because they’re running a deal on Gatorade, five for five dollars, the big bottles, and Jim says he’ll come with me to show me the way.
He says it’s not so much we’re renting our house out as we’re loaning it, and I like that: when you rent a place you vacate it, you turn it over, but when you loan something you kind of want it experienced as it is and then given back the same, more or less.
He has curly hair that hangs from beneath an old baseball cap with a Starbucks logo he must have gotten from Brad, who I met while working there, who I struck up a conversation with in the locker room in the late 90s, then made plans to go bird watching near the Montlake cut in the pre-dawn hours, January, and thereafter, a series of backpacking trips with peaks Brad described that sounded great, but I was in no shape to climb, not like him, but I tried nonetheless.
We attempted peaks in the Olympic mountain range of Washington in early November when there’s like six hours of good light and plenty of snow already, and didn’t get near as far as we’d planned. It was right after 911 and I was going to fly back for a fraternity reunion but was scared about planes and didn’t really want to go anyway.
Jim sits on the porch of Brad’s cabin rolling Job cigarettes and looking out over the woods, taking his time. They were both born in ’59 and knew each other since they were kids. One of the life jackets they got out for my girls has Jim’s last name written in the back with a Sharpie; somehow their things got co-mingled.
There’s supposed to be an easement running from the back of Brad’s cabin down to the lake but it’s not maintained really so there’s some bushwhacking with me leading the way for my kids, pointing out the thorns, the things to avoid along the way.
Brad’s got a kayak from his 75-year-old uncle he just biked across the state with, and I paddle out a bit to where the girls can come swim up to me, hang on, climb in, and we paddle further but not too far, not without life jackets: it just looks bad, feels bad, like riding without a seat belt.
I point out the dust devils to them that look like tornadoes, how the road seems to turn to liquid, like a mirage, and the views of the Columbia river gorge as we approach a town called Vantage, the Texaco where we stopped and first saw the wildfire in the distance.
I drive barefoot with the Cruise Control set around 75, sometimes 80, with long stretches and songs by Townes, “To Live is to Fly,” remembering my first job out of college delivering pizzas in my ’84 Thunderbird barefoot, throwing on sandals to walk up to the front door, leaving the car idling with the AC. How I didn’t worry about jobs or a career then because I knew what I needed to do and would, and everything else was just a lead-up to that, whenever that came.