I got an e-mail from a friend in Harlem. I walked outside in the misty rain and leaned against Roshana, my truck. “Jane said to tell you that your driveway misses you,” I told her.
A wistful look passed over her windshield. “Ah, I miss parking in front of our home, playing lookout, waiting for you to get in and go.” She smiled at me and nudged my shoulder. “I miss going to Havre and Malta and Turner and the post office. But I don’t want to go home yet.”
I puzzled over this, then noticed a blue smudge on her left front bumper. Ah ha, I thought. I had seen that outrageous blue Lexus flirting with her from the neighbor’s driveway. “Has that masher next door been putting the moves on you?” I asked.
Roshana blushed and blipped her horn.
“Don’t get too attached, my girl, because soon we will head across the mountains to home. These quickie love affairs are hard on a woman’s heart.”
She sighed, shivered in the rain, and when she thought I wasn’t looking, the hussy winked at the Lexus.
I understand her quandary, torn between two places with people we love at each end of the road. I lived in western Washington many good years. My children, my grandchildren and numerous friends live here. It is always a joy for me to return. Once here, it’s hard to leave. At the same time, I yearn for my own routine, to be back with my Montana friends, to breathe the air of home.
“Look,” I offered, “Let’s drive the North Cascades Highway home. We’ll stop in Ione, visit old acquaintances. You remember that cheeky camo jeep you liked so much, the one that’s always parked in front of the bar? He’s so funny, and you two can catch up on old times while I attend the poetry reading.” She brightened right up, even shot an apologetic “love ‘em and leave ‘em” glance next door.
My truck and I seldom choose the same route. One memorable winter trip, we began in Vancouver, British Columbia, traversed the Canadian Rockies into Calgary, then crossed the border at Sweetgrass. My favorite is Highway 2 all the way from Harlem to Everett. No matter which route I choose, miles of empty road stretch between here and there. And something about crossing those lonesome miles satisfies my soul.
It would be hard to choose a more spectacular road home than the North Cascades Highway in September, the turning leaves splashing red, yellow and orange with abandon. In honor of novelist Tobias Wolff, who grew up in Concrete and wrote about his youth in “This Boy’s Life,” I will drive beneath the high school which is built with the central portion of the school spanning the road. In Omak, I like to cross the Okanagan River on the foot bridge to visit the site of the annual Stampede and Suicide Race. I imagine the powerful horses plunging down the steep slope, swimming across the river, lunging up the other bank and around the track.
I plan to spend the night in Republic, a spunky little gold mining town where stores and houses perch on steep and crooked streets. I’ll get up early and stock up on treats for the road at Anderson Grocery, an old-time general store, more than 100 years old. Roshana and I will greet the sun when we top Sherman Pass and head down the twisty road to Tiger, a crossroads with a gas station, sometimes open, sometimes boarded up.
A left turn detour will point us north to Ione, a town not much larger than a smudge in the road, where a dozen residents meet every Thursday morning to share their poetry. They gather in the back room of the café where I stopped for breakfast one Thursday morning several years ago. I happened to have some of my own poems with me and asked if I could sit in. They welcomed me and made me an honorary member of their group. I’m looking forward to sharing a couple of my latest poems with them over a hearty north-country breakfast.
Roshana, left on her own for a couple hours, will have time for all kinds of hanky-panky with the battered camo jeep. I’ll bid my poet friends a reluctant farewell. Roshana will beep-beep the jeep, and we will head to Newport, Highway 2 and home.
(Sondra Ashton graduated from Harlem High in 1963 and left for good. She finds, after recently returning, things now look a bit different. Join her in a discussion of her column at www.montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com.)