Sterling

Original Pub:

Plains Song Review Volume VII 2005

Sun_Pillar

A sun pillar in the middle of June. I-80 whispers underneath and a pine wind slips in through your half-open window, racing round inside my Toyota, trying to escape again, scattering the haze of sun-drenched vinyl and old Doritos. And, straight ahead, that improbable, fugitive monument to all this near-flat, thundering emptiness. A red summer sun feigning winter sleep behind a thin stratiform coverlet, a sinister crimson tower. At the base of it, something dark is stirring. On distant, golden hills, sleepy cattle ears prick up and tails slowly swish. The buffalo grass, the tender new milo shoots, the hairs on the back of my neck, everything is erect and quivering.

Just above the Colorado border, we abandon I-80, arcing southwest on I-76, and as Deuel County fades into twilight, our sun pillar is swallowed by the blue-black mouth of the storm, still miles off, but ravenous.

Those round, gold-rimmed hills slip closer to the road, and a green Saturn slides up on our left, tooting its horn. As the Saturn moves on, welcoming hands wave back at us from the murky rear window, in the strange, fading sunset. You comment they must’ve seen my Counting Crows bumper sticker.

I say probably.

Below the western horizon, something massive rumbles in agreement.

The nearest town is Sterling. I can get us off the interstate and into a motel room before the storm hits, I think. This hill is just a hair higher than the last. Poised at the peak, then slipping down steeply into some cryptic valley, there comes a dark shiver. This little native flatlander has sensed the thrusting folds of land up ahead, black cliffs leering down through shreds of mist, silver curls of cloud wreathing jagged peaks, swelling and merging into a thick, crawling mass, riven with miles of purple electricity, thunder slamming the fortresses of antediluvian rock –

 

Then I’m downshifting into the scattered yard lights of Sterling, and your window admits a cool draught of hay and manure. One sneakered foot goes up on my cracked dashboard, and your lighter flickers dryly. Your sidelong look in the semi-darkness is full of amusement, even though I’ve said none of this out loud.

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