Big double-engine coal trains lined up unmoving outside of Orin Junction, just off of the highway. Otherwise the tracks are quiet, empty. This is how they stand much of the time these days; empty, overgrown. The coal towns fester and fade, clinging to the past with everything that they have.
I am sick. Seething my way through what has become a month-long cold at this point. We are on the road leaving Wyoming and trespassing our way into Nebraska. The buttes line up alongside us leading to nowhere. Horses stand in groups, sentinels against the snow. They bunch and scatter, moving in and out of their clusters in a sort of slow dance. Cows crowd around a windmill-fed well while the clouds spit a slow-moving snow squall along the railway. The cows become visible and then disappear behind the stranded and empty boxcars. Graffiti tries to call to us from a world separate from here, these misplaced monuments sacred and extrinsic. On the horizon, more bands of snow. Great dividing lines between white and the dry, brown soil. A squall outside of Lusk, heavy flakes coating the road for five miles.
And then we are through it and the sky is once again a long strip of blue broken only by thin white fingers of cirrus. A dead antelope punctuates the recent snow, seemingly placed with care on the shore of a tiny frozen pond. We come up on Lost Springs: Population 4, with its two-story bar and lounge. It is always a joke, this curiosity. How many barstools do you need in a town of only four people? I always say that I am going to stop in for a drink someday and meet the mayor (who is also the lone bartender from what I have read) though I know that I am too much of a coward. (I may have grown up in these open spaces but I have only learned enough to realize that I am still not a part of them and that is often painfully obvious.)
Apparently, the town was named when railroad employees could not find the spring shown on their survey map. It’s as apt a metaphor as one would need for this desolately beautiful stretch of highway. The giving up, the idea of just stopping where you are. The stubbornness of building a town out of that loss.
The bar town fades into the rearview. We continue to be swallowed by momentum as the asphalt follows alongside the now empty tracks. My daughter is getting excited, bouncing in her booster as the theme song to Sid the Science Kid plays on the dvd player strapped to the seat behind my head. I am getting older by the moment. Older as we pass this landscape past its prime. I am impotently angry about this. I am angry in the way that this whole state is angry right now (and while it is for very different reasons, there’s an ache of similarity there that I don’t want to admit – that unwillingness to move on to what is next). Nevertheless, we are pulled along, tugged by the highway towards the horizon empty of snow once again. The sky aches under its brilliance.
C.C. Russell has published poetry, fiction, and non-fiction here and there across the web and in print. You can find his words in such places as Split Lip Magazine, The Colorado Review, and the anthology Blood, Water, Wind, and Stone. He currently resides in Wyoming where he sometimes stares at the mountains when he should be writing.