The backstory: I visited Mr. Montana, my old friend and new beau, for the second time this October. The wifi was still spotty-to-nonexistent, but I had darned fine cell phone service. I wrote to my Facebook Friends often and at length while I was away, sharing the best bits of what was happening and the thoughts that came along with them. This one was a favorite :+)
Going for an evening walk here is the opposite of walking at home.
At home, in the urbaniest suburb ever, I can turn left into a tree-shaded neighborhood with kids playing ball in their front yards, or turn right, walk two blocks, and be on a six-lane road with traffic lights every half-mile and stores galore. It’s terrific.
Whichever way I turn, there are other people doing the same and traffic noise near and far – commuters coming home, shoppers heading out, or the perpetual hiss of the unseen state highway.
Here? Just after 6pm, along more than a mile of hard-packed dirt road, I met zero walkers and only two trucks, one of them his.
He drove by at first. I gave the nonchalant country wave and got the same in return, but I stopped walking when I heard his little blue truck stop, waited while he backed up until we were eye-to-eye.
He looked so young, in that moment. He’s left his hair long for me – his bangs in his eyes and the rest to his shoulders – and with his ball cap pulled low, it was sticking out in that way (you know the one). There he was, home from work, his weathered face framed in all that sandy-blond-streaked-with-grey, his sea-blue eyes amused, and that grin of his with a toothpick in the corner…
Mr. Montana: Where you headed?
Me: The apple tree.
Mr. M: You picked a strange time to do that…
Me: Couldn’t you use some time to yourself?
Mr. M: [studies my eyes for a long beat…then another one] Y’okay…
Then we shared a quick smooch and went on our separate, opposite ways. I was passed by four trucks on the more-than-a-mile trip back, three of them only a few minutes apart – a backroad rush hour. On all that gravel-studded dirt, I heard them coming from, literally, a mile off.
Other than the commuters’ caravan – all in pickup trucks, of course – the only things out there were endless rows of crop stubble, the long arms of irrigators, a few horses, the ceaseless wind whispering through the dry high grass on the side of the road, and me.
No critters. Not a hint of the usual foxes and pheasants and magpies and rabbits and gophers, because it’s damned cold and anything with any sense is hunkered down and bundled up warm somewhere instead of walking around outside.
No asphalt, either. No concrete. No traffic lights.
No music leaking from car windows. No honking horns, no low rumble of semis on the highway sounding for all the world like thunder, like a storm coming.
And no trash, except for a Pepsi bottle that was more likely bounced out of a truck bed than tossed from a window. It was so flat and bleached and dirt-caked that if it hadn’t been plastic it could’ve been there since Nixon.
Approaching the apple tree, I realized it’s huge – at least 60 feet tall. I eyeballed it at 80 feet from the backhoe parked under it, but I don’t want to exaggerate. There’s no need to. It’s immense in a way trees never are in the suburbs; they could get big there, but they never are. They’re never allowed to grow up and grow old.
I don’t know if it bears fruit anymore, but it’s just as well it didn’t. You couldn’t pick the top branches without heavy equipment, and any apple that fell from that height would probably kill you.
She stands tall near a crossroads, a landmark on the long, low horizon. She’s not without purpose, although she, like me, is too old to produce. A lesson in graceful aging, she continues to take in light and put out leaves, offer shelter and shade; she shows folks when and where to turn.
A photo would fail, so I didn’t even try. I did have my phone, though. It vibrated in my pocket at one point – an abomination. I ignored it mightily.
Ya know, I live in a nice area – a good, safe place – and I like being close to shops. But it’s a place where everything I see and hear has been shaped by man’s hands, where anything natural is there only because it’s allowed to be. It gives a false sense of order, control, and our significance.
Out here, walking along those fields with their lines of dead stubs pointing to forever, even though they’re all cultivated, you don’t get to forget how small you are, how unimportant, and how unique.
The lines of mountains behind them make me feel young and foolish and temporary and treasured.
Most things here aren’t built or invented but grown from seed and soil.
It’s pure country.
Crys Wood is the copyeditor + proofreader at Paper Crane Publishing, making a career of her innate pickiness and love of words. She lives not-so-quietly in Big Sky Country with her sweet and cranky old man, a cat who is more of the same, and stacks and stacks of books.