Bugs. So many bugs. In just twenty or so miles, the windshield was covered; I could barely see. Wizard, I knew, was driving by childhood memory -- though the land he once knew is now different. Even I can see that over the course of the past twenty years, the excess water has reshaped this place. Once, there was field; then, I used to fear sliding off the road into the newly formed lake; now, there are high tensile cables, reflective shields, and signs: the water feels contained. I felt myself hoping he didn't really need to see, but knowing that he was also driving too fast to make the upcoming to me at least invisible turn. For years now, this turn has occasioned an explanation of the art of driving on gravel. I smile and hold my breath. This time, he is silent. It is not because he thinks I now belong -- he's already had to explain several aspects of local culture, cooking, and vocabulary -- I think it's because he knows that neither he nor I can live here.
The journey to this place is always harder than I remember. There are the unusual flight patterns, the absence of proper accessibility and the difficulty of the journey (so many flights and then a drive). It's also that I am travelling into a place where I don't know how to conduct myself, don't know the customs or mores, and where I don't get the grace one usually allows tourists. Approximately 400 people in this town; 600; 300; but 1300 here -- the county seat. We observe people camping at the local tiny airport; we're not sure why. There are signs for the county fair. This is a rural America I'm not terribly familiar with. It's what people mean when they say "heartland" or "flyover."
I'm not sure what to make of the changes I see. There are now more Japanese-American cars on the roads here; before, it was primarily American cars. There are now many Mexican and Chinese restaurants in the city two hours from our destination; one place is dedicated to burritos, another to tacos. I don't yet see listings for Indian or Thai. The town nearest to where I am staying has a new aquatic center. The sky seems the same: huge and hugely expressive. I don't know how to read the clouds, but I am moved by their diversity and fluidity. They move across cover vast expanses of sky, creating deep shadows on the ground. And the ground is green; high with crops, low with grass, wet with sloughs and yet dry from the lack of rain. I study the multiple textures of leaves, plants, grass, reeds, crops and .... My eye is distracted by movement: game birds, herons, other birds I can't identify.... rabbit, deer, beaver ... I can see the surface; what it means to the people who live and work here, I don't know.
The journey holds an unpleasant mirror. I really am the person who drinks only gourmet coffees, eats primarily non-American food in take-away situations; I'm a clothes and shoe afficionado, design freak, and urban urbane citizen (or at least I like to think so). When I don't have immediate access to these things, I get a little grouchy.
We turn onto the dirt road. I feel as if I am in a movie -- you know the kind where the woman hides in the crops only to be discovered by the bad guy? -- the narrow trail is surrounded by wheat. There's no street or house light, no moon either. The headlights don't reach far enough ahead for my comfort; their pool shallowly reveals trees, then, outbuildings, then a house. Wizard pulls up through the grass onto the patio. We've arrived.