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On the road again


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I received an invitation to read my poetry in Seattle. It was a giant boost to my ego. I drove a thousand miles to be a featured reader in front of a group of friends and fellow poets in a Seattle-area coffeehouse. I miss my poet friends. Having an audience is vital to my creative process. When I read my poetry aloud, I hear things on a visceral level that I otherwise miss. In three weeks I jammed and crammed a lot of visiting. More precious than gold are my friends, my relatives and my grandchildren. It is good for me to occasionally get away from my everyday world. When some people drive long distances, they listen to music or books. When I am on the road, I think. I was on the road a mere 35 miles from home, between Chinook and Havre, when I realized that my shirts were still stacked neatly on my bed, waiting to be loaded into my van. I pulled off the highway and checked. I was right. I had left my shirts. Now I had a choice. I could return to my house and get them, or I could buy new shirts along my route. A no-brainer, right? In Kalispell I told my friend Sharon that I wanted to go to the Salvation Army store near her house. "My favorite store," she replied. I replenished my shirt supply. Sharon bought even more than I did. While driving in bumper to bumper traffic on Interstate 90, it occurred to me that we were much like the Blue Angels, the Navy's exhibition flight team. We were driving in earthbound formation while the Blue Angels soared through the air. I had the nose of my van sticking to the tail of the truck in front of me, the SUV behind me was sucking up my fumes, a sleek Corvette convertible held the place to my left while on my right a decrepit rusty Nova chugged along, spewing black clouds. In the sky, the Blue Angels stay in beautiful precision formation, breaking apart only to create another pattern. On the Interstate, our auto formation was constantly shifting with vehicles randomly changing lanes, speeding up or slowing down. Why is that, I wondered. Training, I answered. The Blue Angels are specially chosen for intelligence and skill. They are highly trained and tested. We, however, need only pass a rudimentary test at sixteen, then climb into a car and go. We drive while hungry, sleepy, stressed, angry or late for work. We apply make-up, shave, read, talk and text, eat, drink and threaten other drivers. Where would you rather be? In the cockpit with the Blue Angels or behind the wheel on the freeway? Jaguars are the only truly beautiful car on the road. In my travels I have seen many, many varieties of automobiles, and none but the Jag has truly distinctive style that catches my lustful eye. Every town I passed through had empty store fronts. My favorite grocery store in Bonners Ferry, where I used to stop every trip for coffee and the best buttermilk donuts, had closed. My heart was broken. I felt momentary depression, then hope, that someone with dreams and elbow grease would come along to open new businesses in the old spaces. While I was in Seattle, a friend invited me to ride the "Duck," a left-over World War II amphibious car/boat which tours the city streets and then paddles around Lake Union. In all the years I had lived there, I had never done this. It was great. Be sure to buy a quacker and leave dignity behind. Be silly and have fun. A surfeit of seafood is not possible. On Whidbey Island, Wash., there is a pottery shop at Juan de Fuca, a hamlet slightly bigger than Savoy. For years I have said, "Someday I am going to stop there." I stopped. At this minute I am drinking tea from a cup handcrafted by an artist. Several days later I exited into the town of Sprague, Wash., another "I wonder what is there" place. What is there, along the lake, is a grand collection of vintage farm trucks and a lovely former railroad depot which a craftsman has restored into a unique residence. As the wheels on the van go round and round the wheels of my mind go weird. Why in the world would I break into loudly singing the childhood jingle for "Beefaroni" while driving through Spokane? (Hooray for Beefaroni, it's made from macaroni.) It was a warm day and I had rolled the window down. At a stop light, I saw that I had attracted an audience. I rolled the window up. On I-90 I saw innumerable dead tire treads. Back in Montana, on roads the writer William Least Heat Moon called "Blue Highways," I spotted two big horn sheep, two elk, a wolf, and hundreds of deer and antelope. I also drove through a cloud of eau-de-skunk. I drove a thousand miles back. Brown is more beautiful than green. Hooray, Montana. (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 http://montanatumbleweed. Blogspot.com.)


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