On A Bright Desert Highway
Cool wind in my hair adds to my sense of freedom on the open road and rolling down the windows provides an alternative to a sunroof or a convertible. Regardless of the outside temperature, I cherish this blowing brush of freedom, which tussles my hair and relaxes my spirit. In the Florida summers, I confess to abusing the environment and driving with the windows down and the air conditioning fighting against the onslaught of humidity. I do the same in cooler weather calling on the heater to balance out the two extremes. Along alternate US Highway 93, the interior man-made warmth and the natural exterior briskness balance the temperature and still allow me to enjoy the blustery sensation.
The distant threat of soft rain along the Great Basin Highway bothers me little, as driving with the windows down both refreshes me and defies the raindrops. The brilliant sun disperses its light from behind the clouds and the basin brush shows little color beyond its shades of tan, brown, and sage, but the light, sandy desert still illuminates the day vibrantly. My primary vision in this mix of monochromatic autumn scenery stems from the writing I scribed seasons before and thousands of miles southeast of this drive. Here I am searching for a specific site along a distant desert highway yet to be determined, that will fit the needs of my plot. The story in progress requires a setting similar to the myriad of low lands hiding in the rolling slopes of eastern Elko County, which changes the partially penned work to a more northerly setting, with higher hills, more curves, and fewer trees than the original idea I conceived. In fact, in this setting, trees are scarce.
A Burst of Color
When I start on this drive from Ely, the sign at the edge of town promises no gas services for more than one hundred twenty miles and it must be said that Nevada is a state of its word. Even without the sign, my map confirms the posting, so fueling up before heading out seems obvious. To attempt to traverse the Steptoe Valley and to continue over the White Horse Pass without a full tank of gas would be the act of an idiot. This most desolate highway allows me the luxury of self-imposed isolation and I escape for a time from the typical worldly binding in which I usually pass each day, until a lone tree ahead of me, drenched in color, distracts me and reminds me of the everyday world.
I drive onto the shoulder, regardless of the dearth of other vehicles on the road, and cut the engine, the vehicle-generated heat, and the noise of the car. I stand facing the Idiot Tree, or so the stake in the ground reads, and I circle its base admiring the baseball hats, cowboy boots, compact discs, and personal accoutrements hanging from its branches along a completely deserted stretch of the Lincoln Highway. Written on one hat, the names of a couple, and on another, a date – could these be the names and dates that commemorate an idiotic, romantic error regretted and crucified on this bark? The leaves vibrate against the cool breeze but make little sound. Dozens of other individuals made the pilgrimage to this place, stood in its silence, and pounded nails into the living wood as a testament to foolishness, which seems unidentifiable. Perhaps the Idiot Tree stands as a landmark of lunacy, or a confessional for casual sins, or a mark of idle drivers. Perhaps this lone tree is just a place where people run out of gas.