Context: I rode west from Chicago til I hit the Mississippi. Then rode north along it for about 100 miles before cutting back.
I lay a wire out along the road; tack it down a little in places so that I can follow it, and then I do.
The wire existed in my mental mapping and now it exists along the edges of the road itself. It jig-jogs along the shoulder, tumbling sometimes into the gravel; scampering over the crests of hills; dancing and erratic just ahead of me.
I take a track that first goes a little south, then a little/lot more west.
I pass corn fields and fields of weeds and wildflowers, cows, siding houses, and pick-up trucks. The road is cut in places; broken apart at the edges and un-smooth across the lanes. I am sipping from a mason jar of Americana and running my thumb along the sweat as it gathers on the glass, watching it catch and fall in tiny streams. The air and the earth are patchwork amber.
I am riding through the middle of America. It is a quilt spread out in front of me – something a little worn; a little scratchy; a sweet subdued.
These sort of places have something to do with me. And they have nothing to do with me.
I left in the afternoon and so I ride directly into the sun as it sets. The sky is clear and cloudless, and as the sun shifts its weight to the right and sinks lower, the light starts to get snagged in the tree line along the highway, flashing too bright between the bodies of blackened branches.
I can’t see as I ride into it. I take snapshots of the road when I find it again in the shadows of the trees, memorizing the terrain ahead of me in these split-second moments and riding in blindness in between.
There is a body beneath me. It has a heartiness. A heaving. A heat.
I reach a hand forward and press my palm against the broad surface of a neck, resting it along the long lines of muscle, where the fur has become matted, pressing each finger into its own groove in the coat. There is a coarseness to the mane; a thickness to each horsehair between fingertips.
I’ve got horsehair in my mouth and dirt beneath my nails. This is how I like to live. Where the sweat and the dust gather along the greatest planes and I can move with free range of motion against them. There is a fiber. A body. A mass. There is a heavy breath; an exertion and endurance to each expedition.
I luxuriate in the rough and tumble. I am drawn to what is rugged.
Some like it “pretty” and I get that too. But it isn’t how I like to live. I like it in so many other ways – I like my things with grit. Mostly because I believe that our existences are meant to be a little messy; I think we are equipped to stare into the sun. It is still meant to be beautiful, absolutely, but perhaps not as simply as some define it. Sometimes what’s worthwhile runs in currents deeper. And sometimes it’s worth the work.
But I have trust in this route, though I’ve never followed it. And I have trust in those who agree.
The road slows as it moves through the small town, where heat rises off of cracked cement and there is signage on bricks and dirt-cheap cans of too-warm beer; it is like a man’s name that is both timeless and unnoteworthy – a thin, solid slab of meat. A Hank. An Earl. A Bill.
I am walking. Sometimes I walk alone like this, in spaces that are not my own but, in their isolation, might as well and somehow still belong to me. I’m alone out of choosing and I’m alone out of necessity and I’m alone out of causation.
Because I wander among the weeds instead of walking along the sidewalk, and sometimes people take this as an assault on their sense of structure, which they sometimes equate to their sense of being.
I am not the only one like this, though.
There are others who wander, too. Who play in the art of getting lost, just for getting’s and losing’s sake.
For people like us, there are different types of journeys and a certain sorts of place. Places we can go where we can get some space.
We’ll all race along the roads, chase down strands along the shoulders and find other ways that offer meaning. We’ll sketch our figures in black and white; we’ll paint ourselves in ink. We’ll run our fingertips along the fibers as we weave. We’ll pioneer the land looking for good places and where it’s right, we’ll find ourselves a little rooted there before we even realize.
We may build out little spaces with a deliberate sweat; we’ll erect them with consideration and each will be a sort of home.
There will be dusty floorboards beneath our bare, flat-footed feet and we’ll drink our coffee from chipped mugs. We’ll build a veranda off the kitchen and paint our bedrooms walls with trees. We’ll bring the outside in and we’ll take the inside out and we’ll live like this, in all places at once, for some amount of all our days.
And when the thunderstorms and the snow and the heat come over the world and the sky wages war against us overhead, our sort of house will stay grounded – hold fast to this spot in the earth and endure the elements with steadfastness. And we will tuck ourselves inside away from it, come in when we’re dripping with weather and exhausted by it, and the house, it will hold true and simply be.
There is a give and take in situations such as this; sometimes we’ll make sacrifices; other times, we’ll make demands.
Sometimes we are the house. And sometimes we will be the weather.
And we will have to learn these moments from one another and avoid being the same at once. And these learnings will take time. Because sometimes, things, they are circumstantial. Something previously known as fixed becomes fluid when another moment contradicts it. We break down and rearrange our understanding of a thing; lose sight of the wire running rampant along a road until we rediscover it miles later and, seeing it hop back onto the asphalt, feel reassured once again that our route is right. We build and rebuild our sense of this existence and of being, by chasing the wire down on the road.
There will be cold nights, when even crowding the beings beneath us won’t suffice and we’ll have to seclude ourselves away from them. There will be hot nights, when our spaces are too small; too contained and we’ll be shoved out and go searching for the refuge of the rain.
But on warm nights, we’ll sit on the worn, weathered wood of our built back porches, our feet rooted in the cooling grass, and we will drag our fingertips now along the horsehair of acoustic instruments and share the softness of their sounds.
And as one of us strums, another will have song.
“Come,” one will say. “I’ll tell you a little story. It won’t take long.”
We’ll tip our drinks in each other’s directions and we’ll laugh as we agree: “here’s to now.”
And we’ll go on unwinding our horsehair fibers, like wires, running along the road and into dawn.