Ecclesiastes falls open on highway 22

blackbear

On a Saturday evening on the first day of June, sit down and draw the road from Saskatchewan Crossing, past David Thompson to Rocky Mountain House. Pencil in an occasional half-ton and RV. Make the trees bow imperceptibly east in a whisper of wind. Show your own car on pebbled asphalt, curving around empty Abraham Lake; show it with just enough bank so you’ll note the wear and hear whir of summer tires. And if you take a full two hours to get the perspective right you’ll begin to feel the agreeable loneliness of it all. You will sense the ache of invisibility, the strength of which will draw a black bear down from the hills to feed along the ditches, with its specific errand—to pay you no mind. For you are nothing but a beautiful body within a far more grand body-beautiful.

This will set you up nicely for highway 22 from Rocky to Drayton Valley. If you’ve left enough room on your foolscap or parchment, draw this stretch as well. When you have the lines arranged, draw three vehicles: a brown SUV and two big oil trucks, make their tanks soot-black and space them equally along the 90K route.

Take an hour for this part, for it is wise to draw slow during the interminable dusk, so you will not miss the dozens of white-tail deer lushing in deep-ditch grasses, like graceful green witches collecting basil balm. And too, so you will not miss the one wapiti sailing over a fence to join friends in a field of timothy and clover—a jump and galloping distance you could only span if you turned ungulate. But that is not your place at this hour, on this range, with your still evolving vision.

And if these two narrowing roads aren’t enough to make you see yourself the vanishing point you are, yet within the geometry of ordinary experience, then, set your charcoal down and drive with me. 

When we reach highway 39, we’ll refuse Drayton Valley for the shortcut to the Yellowhead: east a mile to Range Road 759, and press the accelerator north. Here, now, driving before midnight, it’s a simple thing to sink into the sweet poverty of anonymity.

And neither is the spell broken as we pass Tomahawk and see a collection of campers, a fire in their midst. And when we pass the lone hotel and see two women in the doorway, smoking, it will take all our reserve not to stop and mingle with our own herd. But we would miss it if we did. We do not know what we’d miss, only that there is this “it” dangling like a carrot.

To say there is nothing along 759 is a lie. (For indeed, there is too much that has gone on here in this crimson-tide culture. Before and beyond the North Saskatchewan, long tracts of land have been torn up; hellish hillocks stand beside land gouged and gaping from acre-sized engines, wielding hector-sized shovels.) But to say there is nothing, on this night, is existential truth.

And as we drive, don’t be surprised when Nora Jones comes over the stereo to sing Day is Done, and don’t intentionally seek out Steely Dan’s Deacon Blues. It will come. As will the pilgrim musician who rises at sundown and plays all night—just what he feels. Everything within and without fits when we are this close to that thin veil.

For it is here on this deserted highway where agendas fall away. And now there is something like a suspension of motion. As if the car stood still, while the ribbon of road traveled towards us, slipping beneath our wheels. And we, stationary, become the observed observers.

And dead ahead, as north is north, the red flare of sunset refuses to be extinguished, and by that gesture becomes an everlasting lament to every dying light in the world.

Aloneness, mere-ness, lost longings, aches you can only partly sing, partly paint. The dough of it all hangs in the air—the yeast of mortality rising to fill our heads. The sobriety of it so intoxicating that we are ready to worship, or fall to incessant prayer. Reasonable responses to this creation, the earth’s body, our body, our slender moment on this divine finite plane.

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