31 January 2010


Genesis 2:7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

I grip the steering wheel and glance back in the rearview mirror. The narrow blacktop receding behind the small white four-door shines in the clean air, the red dust to either side temporarily metamorphosed into red mud, wet from the thunderstorm that has left the air cool, fresh, and new. It fills my lungs with the organic living smell of springtime in the Texas Panhandle as it sweeps by me outside the open window. The car lurches as the wheels bounce over a bump on the road, and the gray aluminum hard hat beside me on the seat slips to the floor, followed by a paper waterfall of maps, electric logs, and cross sections, my guide to the wildcat where I will spend the next two weeks watching and waiting as the bit twists into the Permian, there beneath my feet and 200 million years before my time.

I reach forward and turn the knob on the radio. A familiar train of guitar chords emerges from the speakers, an old song that haunts the chapters of my life, appearing always on cue after every change in course. I listen to the words, and mentally cut another benchmark signalling a turn in my life.

I close my eyes,
Only for a moment, and the moment's gone.
All my dreams
Pass before my eyes of curiosity.
Dust in the wind,
All they are is dust in the wind.

Alongside my road, the line of tall brown telephone poles narrows to a distant point on the llano estacado, redirecting my attention from the past to the future. The section lines pass by at precise one-mile intervals, the crossroads appearing and disappearing, ticking away my life one minute at a time.

I grip the steering wheel and glance back in the rearview mirror. The four lane highway glows in the yellow California sunset, receding behind the marker lights of the rattling two-ton flatbed. The coastal mountains shadowed by the setting sun dip down and disappear beneath the alluvium in the valley floor, which itself narrows to a vanishing point ahead of me intersecting my road, strung along a narrow grade above the prune orchards and safflower fields. In the mirror I inspect the ropes holding the beehives to the truck bed, 112 red and white eight-frame doubles, headed out of the almonds and into the cherries. The bees are quiet, the cool evening air blowing fresh clouds of oxygen between the stacked boxes, keeping them content and quiet inside until the sun goes down. Beside me on the seat is an old gray aluminum hard hat, now drilled for four small bolts that hold the knitted veil in place over the broad brim, the zipper below sealing the veil to the white beesuit I still wear for warmth, now as the sun goes down. On the inland slope above me, an array of giant steel towers parallel the road, the cables stringing them together tying the hills, the road, and my path along them into a distant knot, far ahead.

I click the knob on the dashboard and the song appears, the familiar chords presaging the familar words, as yet again, it announces the departure of another crossroads slowly disappearing behind me.

Same old song,
Just a drop of water in the endless sea.
All we do
Crumbles to the ground though we refuse to see.
Dust in the wind,
All they are is dust in the wind.

I grip the steering wheel and glance back in the rear view mirror. The ice-covered highway behind me recedes into the distance, an exact reflection of the highway focusing to the vanishing point ahead of me through the windshield. The ragged corn stubble beneath the Minnesota wind farms to either side is covered in snow, under a thin blue sky empty of clouds, the interference patterns of the sun dogs refracting like a flock of washed-out rainbows hovering above the generators, high overhead. In the mirror, I inspect the chains holding the water chiller to the truck bed, its squat 27,000 pounds filling most of the 48-foot trailer, headed out of Wisconsin and destined for Indochina, months away in its future, but not to be part of mine. The tractor wheels hit a pothole in the frozen highway, and an old gray felt Quaker broadbrim slips to the floor, followed by a paper waterfall of maps, road atlases, and hours-of-service logs, my guide to the 3500-mile trip to the Seattle seaport and return.

I press the tiny button on the dashboard, and the song appears from the speakers, the words from the past reminding me to take note of the crossroads. On either side the ranks of colossal electrical generators parallel the highway, their stately aerofoils windmilling in the frigid prairie breeze, turning in unison like the hands of gigantic clocks, ticking off the intervals of my life as I run the gauntlet between their slowing turning blades. 

Don't hang on.
Nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky.
It slips away,
And all your money won't another minute buy.
Dust in the wind,
All we are is dust in the wind.

I look up into the sky as I pass under the generators, the immense blades cutting the air, impassively slicing the stream of time into discrete intervals, one after another, ahead of me along my road. 

Genesis 3:19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

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