May 2021 - 46

WILD COUNTRY DISPATCH

The road
is the thing
Story by Tom Reed | Illustration by L. Eslick

Two young men - boys really - little
more than acquaintances thrown into the
common soup called higher education found
themselves late one night in a fraternity
house hallway. It was there they discerned
a collective core of having maternal grandparents for whom the land and the sky and
the outdoor world were all that made up
living. Grandparents who did their living
in the rural agricultural heart of the West.
My grandmother's ranch was tucked against
a big mountain high in the Rockies. His
grandparents' ranch was somewhere east of
Albuquerque.
The party was over and everyone had
gone to bed, but the conversation turned
completely to wild, rural living.
I had the keys to a gassed up Chevy
LUV 4x4, so we found ourselves in Arizona
darkness on a Friday night - or maybe it
was a Saturday morning - heading north,
then east, into the cholla-covered flat gut of
eastern New Mexico. In many ways, it was
a fool's errand guided by the notion that
since Arizona is next to New Mexico, how
far could it really be? The reality is southwestern Arizona is a long way from eastern
46 | May 2021	

New Mexico. After driving all night and well
into the next morning, we found ourselves
on the stoop of the low-slung adobe of my
traveling companion's grandparents starving for coffee. Grandma met the surprise in
southwest style with homemade tortillas,
green chili-smothered eggs and pinto beans
that alone were worth the drive. So is the
memory of that raw, wild ranch, the grandparents with tales and humor as dry as the
land and an ephemeral happy recollection
of that long weekend 40 years or more gone.
There are some who can live without the
open road and, as Leopold would say, some
who cannot. I fall into the latter category.
While I have no particular mechanical ability
to speak of - enough only to arc the starter
of that same LUV 4x4 on another road trip
from Arizona to Alaska a few years later -
many times the vehicle itself combines with
the road, the traveling companion, and the
landscape for road trip pleasure.
A few summers ago, I loaded my convertible 1968 Ford Bronco with camping and
fishing gear and made my way through Yellowstone National Park and up the East Fork
out of Dubois for a week. I camped under the

spruce, drank coffee by a crackling fire and
went nowhere in particular. Sometimes I got
out the binoculars and watched rust-orange
elk calves follow their mamas up the flank
of a mountain splashed liberally yellow with
blooming mule's ears and arrowleaf balsamroot. I didn't fish much because I was happy
just to be driving and seeing. Sometimes, I
trained those same binoculars into the pines
to watch chickarees perform like high-wire
acrobats and then I started the Bronco and
drove somewhere else. The journey was the
thing, the feel of cool, Wyoming air as I
drove, the sky, the land, the respite from
daily humdrum.
There are rules in this casual game. The
traveling companion for one should either be
nonexistent or like-minded. Some of my best
have been and are canine, from JD all the
way up to Mabel and Edna. Not forgetting
Hank, Ike, Sage and Echo, either, or Duke.
They are always happy to go, don't complain
about the food, can go to the bathroom
anywhere, and don't bore you with mindless rhetoric. If you choose a human to ride
shotgun, it pays to have someone who pays
their fair share, laughs at your jokes and has



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