A hot wind sucked me out of Colorado, whipped me across the panhandle of Oklahoma and hurled me over the Lone Star state before dumping me into the dead-end of nowhere called South Texas. To survive even one day in such a hellhole seemed improbable, but I vowed that if I did, I’d grab the first good breeze out of there.
A faded blue pickup pulled into my yard one early evening and honked. An arm festooned in Mexican silver bracelets stuck out the driver’s window, flame-red fingernails dangling a long-necked beer bottle. The arm, bracelets and manicured nails belonged to a teaching associate from the college.
“Jump in,” she yelled through the window.
“Where’re we going?”
“Nowhere, anywhere. Come on, we’re burning daylight.”
My butt barely touched the seat before the truck turned a sharp left and careened down a country road. Mary Ann tossed a beer, a pack of Pall Mall cigarettes and a Zippo lighter into my lap and cranked the radio full blast. Above the din of clattering metal, Freddie Fender crooned about last teardrops, and I braced my feet on the dashboard as the truck corkscrewed over the pitted caliche road.
After countless bruising miles, Mary Ann parked near a stand of gnarled mesquite trees and said, “See how the leaves change color from green to silver when the wind blows them?”
I nodded, though they looked more dirty grey than silver to me.
“Now listen. Hear them whispering?”
I listened. It DID sound like whispering.
“Many’s the night I’ve been lulled to sleep by their quiet stories.”
Mary Ann climbed out of the truck and followed a barbed wire fence to a six-foot cactus covered with bright yellow flowers. I stumbled along behind her, trying to avoid the barbs that snatched at me. “Around the end of summer those flowers turn into red pear apples,” she said. “My mama made prickly pear jelly out of them, and Granddaddy brewed up batches of kick-ass wine.”
I tried but couldn’t imagine how either would taste but, hey, I didn’t know trees talked either, did I?
Mary Ann walked and I scrabbled down to the bottom of a dry creek bed where she pointed out the tracks of deer, javelinas, raccoons, wild turkeys.
“Thousands of birds migrate down here every winter,” she said. “One year a huge flock of geese flew over my house and blocked out the sun. Swear to God, their wings sounded like a roaring locomotive.”
Shortly before sunset Mary Ann pulled off the road, and we watched in silence as the corals and golds and pinks gently pulled the blue over the edge of the sky.
“My God, I’ve never seen so many stars,” I said.
“Pretty, huh? That’s South Texas all dolled up for the dance in her diamonds and velvet.”
As we meandered our way home, we belted out wobbly renditions of I’d Waltz Across Texas, blending in perfect harmony. The cement of friendship of two women from different worlds cured in the cab of that old truck that day, and the dreaded ten months in South Texas turned into nine years. When I did finally catch that traveling wind, I carried a piece of that land with me.
Now forty years later, I’m retired and living back in Mary Ann’s country. We drive the back roads whenever we can and enjoy sunsets on her porch or mine. Often we don’t talk, just enjoy the gentle wind and listen to the murmuring leaves.