Backroads

A land that time forgot feels pretty nice these days.

I woke to light snowfall, and the snow-topped Pueblo Mts. outside my window.

After coffee, I got dressed and headed back to the junction to top off the gas tank and get some warm breakfast. As I left, a young man was walking into the restaurant. He was the first person I’ve seen wearing a mask, at all. I was so startled I shouted, “Hey! Take off that mask!” He said, I think, a muffled ‘What?’ and I said “Nobody wears them around here!” but he was already taking it off, and said with a smile, ‘Thank you!’

We then turned off the highway on a 50 mile cutoff of slippery dirt road. The mountains ahead were only dark shadows behind snow flurries, and I was nervous. But it was really a twisty river valley strung with water meadows that popped vivid green by the snowy desert mountainsides. I came upon the abandoned stone house in the featured photo and was struck with the craftsmanship. I spent ten minutes on a Luddite fantasy of how I could retire there and maybe write something. Getting out of Janet to take the photo, the scent of fresh, wet sage was powerful.

Passing Whitehorse Ranch, in an open and deserted area, I kept seeing horse droppings. Looking around, I spotted a herd of wild mustangs! Pulled over and watched, through binoculars, as the stallion bunched the mares up and made them trot a little way. Why, I’m not sure.

Came out on a relatively busy highway and angled northeast. I saw a herd of Pronghorn antelope near the road. I think they looked right through the windshield at me, because when I sat up tall and exclaimed, they all turned and flashed their little white butts, and ran off.

Last stop in Oregon was Jordan Valley, an old Basque settlement that time clearly forgot. Those men hand-built themselves a huge wall of golden stone for playing pelota, their  national game. Is it still used? Anachronistically,  the Sinclair gas station has not updated their mascot, nor their bathroom fixtures.  They also expected me to pump my own gas, even though we were still in Oregon. Had to get used to it sometime.

In Idaho, the Boise/Nampa/Meridian sprawl showed new prosperity along I-84. I felt kind of depressed at the bright chain restaurants and tracts of new homes. At Mountain Home, I got off for gas at a Chevron, and sure enough, one checker was mask free completely,  the other had a mask, and another had one, but pulled down under her nose. A lot of customers had masks on, but some of us didn’t. Why?

Afterwards, I watched a young man walking from his car, taking out and fastening on a crisp blue and white paper mask. As he got close, I rolled down my window and asked him what the rules were in Idaho. He said it depends on the business you go into. I asked him why he put one on, and he said “Well my mom had it, so…” To be kind, I nodded gravely and said “So she takes it very seriously?” He nodded, and I could only see his pretty, dark and almond-shaped Mexican eyes, but they looked sad and worried.

Maybe the more prosperous the area, the more you’re scared not to wear a mask. Maybe that says it all.

Anyway, nobody here in Shoshone, Idaho is wearing one, and the lady was very nice and said I can park by her trailer to feel safe. And so we were.