A year later, and I’m up at dawn again on the longest day. Last time it was driving you to a job you tried so hard to like. This time, it’s me, delivering papers in the limbo between yesterday and today. The date on the front page is tomorrow in my mind because I haven’t slept, but today hasn’t started until someone steps out onto their front porch and picks up this carefully rubber-banded scroll.
During the late 18th century and early 19th century, citizens of the newly formed United States were “seeking out the land’s scenic marvels, measuring their sublime effects in language, and even staging an informal competition for which site would claim pre-eminence as a scenic emblem of the young nation” (Sayre 141).
This is the final installment part of a three-part dispatch. Pt. 1 and Pt. 2 can be found on The Common’s website.
The first order of business was to find the source of the leak. I went downstairs to the parking lot and started the car. Water pooled on the ground in the time it took me to get out and raise the hood. Finally, I nailed it down to a blown intake gasket. A spot about six inches long between the engine head and the intake manifold that bled water and antifreeze.
This is the second part of a three-part dispatch. You can read Pt. 1 here. The final installment will be published in January.
We were still night owls then, seldom rising early, but after the night we spent in Duluth, we wanted to enjoy as much time there as we could before hitting the road again. We woke at first light, dressed without showering, and drove back to the waterfront. The sun was rising on the lake, and we walked to the end of Canal Point where the lighthouse stood silhouetted against the water turning gold with the new day. It was it was in the low 40s, and we took turns posing, shivering and smiling while the other took a picture.
This is the first part of a two-part Dispatch. Pt. 2 will be published online in November.
She slept for the first two hours of the trip, and when she woke up, the first thing she said was, “When we get back I want a divorce.” We were headed north with the hopes of going to Canada for no other reason than to say that we’d left the country. We’d decided on Thunder Bay, Ontario, because it was the closest destination across the border from our home in southern Illinois. And now, it seemed, the trip was doomed before we’d covered half the length of our own state.
We left the upper reaches of the Mississippi River, our last connection with what we knew, and ventured onto the plains of Minnesota and into North Dakota, 80 miles an hour through fields of sunflowers. Outside Minot, the two-lane highway was under construction, but there were no rows of orange barrels striped with reflective tape; instead, both lanes of pavement were ripped up, and I drove the dirt roadbed between earthmovers, graders, and dump trucks while my wife slept in the passenger’s seat and my seven-month-old son made faces at me in the rearview mirror from his car seat. Finally the roadwork ended, and we drove on through a valley where each hill held white rocks stacked to form the year of a high school’s graduating class. Almost twenty years were covered in as many miles, and I wondered what would happen when they ran out of hills. We crossed into Canada at a small town called Portal, then made our way across the plains, trying to remember to read our speed in kilometers. The city of Regina appeared on the horizon like a skyline drawn in elementary school art class: the sky and ground meeting on a ruler-straight line, while boxes and rectangles extended upward from it. Past that, the highway skirted the Arm River Valley, the only variation in the tabletop prairie, where each town was marked with a wooden grain elevator rising in the distance.
The trail never begins level. It’s part of the architecture of a waterfall. A creek or a stream or a river is flowing along its course, and then there is an abrupt change—a fall—that brings the water a little closer to sea level. A little closer to home.
I’d leave as early as I could and head north, straight up US 51 for three hours. Just a few years before, I was living in the same small Illinois town that my great-great-great grandfather, Hezekiah Gill, had come to from Tennessee, just before the outbreak of the Civil War. Then he turned around and fought for the Union, surviving the battles through Kentucky, Mississippi, his own native Tennessee, and on to Atlanta. But he returned back to Illinois, and it was there in that tiny village that my family stayed for the next 130 years.
We sat side by side on the shore, staring into the sky above the sea, as if we could see the hurricane approaching. The same as standing on the porch back home, scanning the horizon for a tornado, wondering where it would hit. But this was no tornado. There was no escaping it.
We visited the lighthouse on our honeymoon. Tallest in the U.S. It stood right on the sand, backdropped by surfers riding between wooden jetties built to keep the thin strip of beach from disappearing into the sea.