Text and Photographs By Bill Dunford
- Keep right except to pass.
- If you have to use your phone, pull over.
- Sleep first, then drive. Or drive for a while, then sleep. Just don’t do both at the same time.
- When approaching an oncoming vehicle on a dark road, dim your headlights. Besides avoiding accidents, it’s a tip of the hat to the other driver. It’s a recognition that their eyes are probably tired, too, that they also have miles to go before they sleep. Exactly when to flick the switch is a bit of a dance, though. A quarter mile of separation between the two cars is probably too soon, but at least it shows courtesy. A hundred yards is probably too late, but it’s better than never. Anyone who doesn’t do it at all is either not paying attention to the road or is just a jerk.
- At a certain distance outside the city you’ll start seeing highway exits with the foreboding notice, “No Services.” But that just means there are no gas stations or fast food. Those are the exits that offer the best services: roads that lead past ranches and rivers to pines and lookout points. Canyons that block phone-ringing radio waves like a summer tree shades you from the sun. Long stretches where you can roll down the window (at the risk of a little dust) and smell sagebrush, or listen to rows of corn rustle past, or feel the late afternoon slip across the threshold to early evening. Places where it still gets dark at night! Where the incessant, insistent billboard lights and car dealership lights and subdivision lights are not sending their wasted photons shrilling into the sky, but instead the air is quiet with clarity. Where even in the shadows, the foxes and cougars have no trouble making out the motion of their prey, and the owls can plot a swooping course to the next fence post. Where the clean, black, encircling sky is as deep as the ocean. So. Many. Stars. But wait, that especially bright one, right there, is not a star; it’s Jupiter. That piercing point of light is a giant world, with a swirling storm large enough to swallow the Earth whole. Jupiter has planet-sized moons landscaped not only with ice, but volcanoes and canyons and underground oceans harboring more water than all of ours combined. Then there’s the Milky Way, arching across heaven above it all like the vaulted roof of an unfathomable cathedral. It’s not a shimmering wisp of dust – it’s more stars. Clouds of stars. Stars upon stars upon stars that continue until it passeth all understanding. Most of them are ringed by their own planets (surely some other “Earths” among them). So many stories. We gaze and we strain to hear, but most of them we’ll just never know.
- Sometimes at night, a small roadside shrine will catch your eye along the highway. Maybe a little white cross planted by a fence a few feet from the asphalt, illuminated with a single, solar-powered bulb. If you pull over and offer a quiet oblation, I promise you the ghost is there, and will tell you the news while the wind whispers through the barbed wire, down the fence line, and out across the night-wrapped plain.