The sky is everywhere, especially here
This is what will happen to you on the day you drive the length of Route 2 from eastern to western Montana.
Before you get behind the wheel you will stand beside the car and turn in all directions, marveling at the boundless sky.
You will see the 75 mph road signs on this two-lane road and you will smile and set the cruise at 83 and the few cars on the road with you will all be going as fast as you.
It will feel as if you’re flying. As if you could literally take off from the earth and rise in the air and be part of that big sky. When you have to slow to 60 it will feel as if you’re crawling.
On your right will be a prairie dog city, mounds rising over an endless field, one prairie dog after another standing with tiny upraised arms, watching you pass.
You will play the music you brought with you, turning the volume way up and then way down, depending. There will be no stretch of time on Route 2 without music, new and old, to keep you company.
Dinosaurs will appear on a ridge overlooking the road, one after another. Silent, still sentries from hundreds of millions of years ago, watching over their land and you in your small car. It will take you a moment to realize that they’re not real.
You will cross the Milk River early on, shallow water the color of cafe au lait, and you’ll squint as you take in the magnitude of the flooding around it. Tall trees standing in water. The tires of farm machinery half-submerged. Drowned wheat.
A hand-lettered sign –brown letters on a white board– will read Women Are Sacred.
The sky will surround you, the biggest sky you have ever seen, and you will be able to see the weather in all directions, dozens of miles away. To the north: rain sheeting down from the heavens. To the east: sunshine. To the south: gathering thunderclouds. To the west, the direction in which you are headed: a clear dividing line between storm and clear skies.
Zeus is angry, your youthful companion will remark, as the sky ahead darkens.
We’re heading into the jaws of the beast, you will say.
You will grip the steering wheel tighter as the sky turns black. You are driving at 81 miles per hour directly into the storm. You will look at the temperature outside: 72 degrees. Now it will read 71. Now 68.
63. 58. 56.
In five minutes. First you won’t believe it, and you will open the window and the car will fill with cold air. You still won’t believe it and so, knowing your own powers of exaggeration, you’ll turn to your youthful companion and say, Did that temp just drop 20 degrees in ten minutes?
Five, she, a non-exaggerator, will say. 20 degrees in five minutes.
Into the storm you fly. Rain so hard you can’t see a thing will lash the small car and wind will rock it from side to side. You will slow to 30, then 25. You will turn your hazards on, hoping that anyone behind or ahead will see them blinking. You will debate: more dangerous to pull to the side and wait, or keep going?
You will keep going.
Within minutes you will drive out of the storm and the temperature will begin to climb again.
The Milk River, a tributary of the flooding Missouri, will appear again and again. Its own tributaries will also appear –Beaver Creek, Willow Creek– and the flooding is everywhere. Whole fields submerged. Milky brown water lapping at the sides of Route 2.
You will wonder about the Milk River and its shapeshifting qualities.
You and your youthful companion will take turns choosing cd’s from the stack you brought with you. As it was the day before, each song will make your heart ache, in a good way, and make you want to write a beautiful book.
Ahead, as you head west, you will see the tail end of a black cloud dipping down from the sky toward the road directly ahead of you. Having just driven through the storm, this unusual sight will not surprise you.
Into the black cloud you’ll plow, to find that it is not a cloud, but a swarm of tiny black bugs that coat your windshield with bug glue. It will be hard to see. At the next tiny town, dozens of miles down Route 2, you’ll pull into a gas station to scrub your windshield.
At the next pump over, a bigbellied man in cowboy boots and a cowboy hat will jump nimbly out of his truck to do the same thing.
“You get caught in that cloud of bugs too?” he will yell. “Sticky little things, ain’t they?”
You will smile and laugh and scrub away. A little girl will come running out of the shack of a store by the pumps. The bigbellied man will scoop her up and hold her up against the sky.
“I didn’t hardly get to see you today!” he will say, and then he will kiss her on both cheeks and she will throw her arms around his neck and laugh.
When you get hungry you will pull up to a light blue windowless supper club where the parking lot is full of trucks. Before you go in you’ll trade your flipflops for your cowboy boots. Once inside you’ll see that the menu, as you expected, features 18 versions of steak and two of pasta.
There will be eight large aquariums dividing the dining room. In one of them will live two albino frogs, one slender, one so fat that it must try and try again to come up for air.
Back in the car, you will not want to stop driving. The western sky will coax you onward and you will drive and drive and drive until you have driven 670 miles on this one day.
When you finally pull up to the last available motel room in a town on the western edge of Montana you will want to write a poem made up only of lines from songs you listened to as you drove, lines such as Oh life, you are a shining path, or I asked God to please slow down the seconds.
But you will be too tired to write that poem, at least today, and you will go to sleep under a sky filled with stars.