Friday Classic: The Commute
I lived in a big sprawling metropolis for a number of years after college. For most of that time my commute – 20 miles: 45 to 120 minutes depending on traffic – was the defining element of each day. One Thursday, 3 days before Christmas, during a snow storm and the afternoon rush, a desperate man parked his BMW on a major interstate bridge, climbed the Jersey barrier, and threatened to jump into the river below.The police ultimately shot him from the wall with a beanbag gun and fished him out of the water unharmed. In the intervening 6 hour shutdown though people died in ambulances for lack of mobility, and I had plenty of time to evaluate how I was spending my days.
I don’t live there anymore.
I can walk to the office now, but still spend a lot of time on the road for work. I often need to start early, but I no longer dread the drive. In fact some days it qualifies as a fringe benefit.
6:25 A.M. – Back out of the garage into the dark, huffing small slurps of coffee too hot yet to drink.
6:59 A.M. – A mule deer doe trots right to left across the highway and scrambles partway up the far bank. When I see her stop and look back expectantly, I ease onto the shoulder and slow to a stop. Had we met 10 minutes later, I’d have been driving directly into the rising sun, and things may have ended poorly for both of us. As it is though, I’m just in time to watch her burly boyfriend, swollen necked and single-minded in the rut, follow the rest of his harem across the road. I raise my coffee through the open truck window by way of greeting, and enjoy one more lungful of frosted, sage-scented morning air before restarting the engine and rolling on.
7:03 A. M. – An old bachelor pronghorn stands alone just outside the highway enclosure fence, ruminative.
7:09 A.M. – A smallish herd of pronghorn , 15 maybe 20, stand grazing in the sage to the north (left) side of the road. Does on the perimeter face outward, standing sentry.
7:09 A.M. – The rest of the herd, too many white butts, tawny flanks and black accents to count, come into view as I crest a small crease in the land. Looks like they’re starting to bunch up for winter.
7:10 A.M. – 3 muley does and 2 fawns working a hillside to the south. No buck in sight. Is 3:2 a good ratio for the fall I wonder? Do the fall ratios matter or just who comes through to the spring?
7:14 A.M. – 2 muley does and a dinky pencil-horn buck pick their way through the bottom of a steep draw. I’m climbing Beaver Rim. It’s always looked like perfect mule deer country to me, but I almost never see them here.
7:22 A.M. – A magpie stands on the yellow center line. If there’s road-kill, I don’t see it. Magpies are corvids I remind myself, family corvidae. Corvids are supposed to be the smartest birds on the planet. They can devise, construct and use their own tools to solve complex problems, and share knowledge among their group. This one turns his head as I race by, but doesn’t bother to hop away.
7:23 A.M. – 7 critters stand in a line atop a ridge, perfectly silhouetted, black on orange, in the sunrise. I think they’re antelope. Almost certainly they’re antelope. They could be deer.
7:30 A.M. – The sun’s been up for 20 minutes and already the wind is howling. It’s wide open up here on top. This high desert prairie east of the Wind River Valley, north of Green Mountain, south of Sweetwater Rocks and west of the Ferris isn’t near as flat as it looks. But it’s pretty flat. A smallish, light colored raptor kites in the wind not 10 feet above the roadside fence. Probably an accipitor I think, but that’s the best I can do. I need to improve my raptor ID skills I remind myself with the last swallow of my coffee. Or at least put Mom’s old Sibley Guide in the glove box.
7:39 A.M. – I’ve pulled over and grabbed my binoculars to watch a flight of sand hill cranes break camp and head for the sky. It’s a cumbersome process. They look like something out of a sci-fi movie, Jurassic Park maybe. Their length, proportions and mechanism of motion are so otherworldly as to be disorienting and distorting of perspective. I think they’re a few hundred yards north of me and 20 feet off the ground, but it could just as easily be a mile away and 200 yards high. I’m upwind and can’t hear them. They’re supposed to be delicious. Filet Mignon in feathers they say. The cranes fly right over a big herd of antelope. The antelope are unimpressed.
7:50 A.M. – 2 pronghorn grazing.
7:51 A.M. – 15 to 20 pronghorn, grazing and bedded
7:52 A.M. – 20 to 25 pronghorn, grazing and bedded
7:53 A.M. – 15-20 pronghorn, running. I decide the last four groups are dispersed bands of a single herd which, were I to follow it for a day, would continually merge and break apart like the wax in a lava lamp.
8:03 A.M. – 4 ravens and a golden eagle bounce and flap out of the road as I barrel toward their roadkill breakfast. The ravens are corvids too, and brilliant. The eagle is all brawn. I turn and look into its face as I speed past. The face is full of menace and stands as high as my son’s. It’s unnerving.
8:10 – 8:13 A.M. – One enormous pronghorn herd. It’s gratifying to see so many. They’ve struggled in recent years, but that’s one big pile of antelope. Good luck this winter.
8:15 A.M. – I pull over to pee on some sage brush. A jack rabbit bolts from an adjacent shrub. I barely avoid pissing on my jeans. Boots aren’t so lucky.
8:21 A.M. – 11 feral horses, wild and defiant on a hilltop to the west. What a convoluted mess that whole debate is. I’m glad it’s not my job to figure it out.
8:30 A.M. – Arrive just in time for my first meeting of the day.
Yep, the traffic suits me just fine.