You buy a pint of blueberries at the farmer’s market. Or, if your city backyard just happens to be overgrown with blueberries, you pick them yourself.
Then you lie on your porch swing with a book and the pint of blueberries at your side. Reach in for a handful without looking and toss them into your mouth. Tasty, juicy, blueberryness.
Later that day you get a craving for some more blueberries. Back to the pint you go. Now you sit at the kitchen table and eat them more carefully – there are fewer left.
As the number of blueberries dwindles, you become more selective. No more handfuls tossed blithely down. Now you examine each blueberry. Before long you’re eating them one by one, each time selecting the biggest. Each time, the biggest and bluest becomes the best. Each time, you’re happy to be eating the best blueberry.
Only when you’re down to the last four or five blueberries does it occur to you that, compared to the beginning, when the pint was full of plump dark berries, these last four or five are runts. Shriveled, tiny, bruised. Overly examined.
You and your youthful companion have been traveling for days, through the sweeping Dakotas, Montana, Alberta, Idaho, Montana again, and Wyoming. Miles and miles and miles a day you drive, with your youthful companion in the seat next to you playing dj, navigator and personal assistant. (“Where did I put my sunglasses, youthful companion?” “You’re sitting on them.”)
The youthful companion, usually a car sleeper, doesn’t sleep. Her eyes, like yours, roam from side to side all day long.
“There’s so much to see,” she says.
So much to see, out here in the west, where in most states the entire population is less than the population of the city in which the two of you live. Snow-capped mountains rise up in the distance over the rolling plains. A constant wind ruffles the prairie grass into undulating sheets of green-yellow-blue that look like ocean waves, and this land was once an ocean.
Dark cattle lie in the sun or graze on the slopes or stand drinking at the edge of creeks. Horses stand motionless, long tails flicking flies away. Thousands of acres of grassland stretch in every direction, broken only by the dirt roads that lead to a distant houses separated by miles. Pickups rattle over cattle guards underneath iron ranch gates.
“I want to live out here,” says the youthful companion.
“I don’t want to go back.”
Silently you drive. You think about your house in the city, the tiny city lot, the block with all the other houses and duplexes and apartment buildings. You picture your back yard with its raised vegetable bed, all the perennials you’ve planted, the little patch of grass that you trundle the reel mower over every couple of weeks.
You feel tired at the thought of the city: the traffic, the noise, the minutiae of it all.
In the city, tiny things take on great significance. You have watched neighbors turn an apple tree and its dropped fruit –a branch that overhangs into one neighbor’s yard– into years-long warfare. You have watched surveyors take minute measurements to settle a 6″ fence differential argument. Your neighbor and you watched in horror one day as four men from the city chopped down the tree across the street, on orders from the sunlight-craving homeowner who lives behind it. You yourself have called the cops at 3 a.m. to silence the party house down the block.
The smaller and more crowded something gets, the more significance is attached to it.
“It’s good to be away from everyone and everything I know,” says the youthful companion.
“I know,” you say.
And you do. Out here, these endless miles, this sweep of sky, driving 80 across the empty road or 25 on the narrow guardrail-less roads that wind around and around and around the snowy mountains, you realize your own insignificance. Here, in the great beyond, you’re a speck.
“Can we live out here?” asks the youthful companion.
“Sure,” you say.
It’s become your habit to say “sure” to everything the youthful companion asks. Try it sometime. It’s like a lullaby. Can I. . . ? Sure. Will you. . . ? Sure. What if. . .? Sure.
“No, I mean really,” she says, unsmiling. “Can we?”
“Yes,” you say, and you mean it, because you want this too.
You want this enormous land, this vast sky. You picture the 6×12′ raised bed in your back yard, no doubt weed-ridden by now without you to hover over it, and you look to your right and to your left and behind you and ahead of you and all there is, is space. Space in which an extra foot or so, a patch of weeds, mean nothing. You are nothing, ultimately, but a traveler passing through an endless land.
The west is the full pint of blueberries.
Lovely. These are familiar feelings–thank you for putting them so well into words.
Do you think that you could, that you will?
I also know what you mean. We have that space, and it is something to cherish.
It’s taken me this long, upon my return, to think about blogging again. That’s how much I miss the wide-open spaces. (Lucy, I think that maybe someday, when my youthful companions are older, I just might light out for new territory.)