Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Day of Purple Witch Tits, Part 2

robert langellier

Sometime around noon I sit down aside a grain silo to eat lunch. A banana, an apple, a cherry Kashi granola bar, a little bit of green Gatorade leftover from work yesterday. I’d say more around 11:45, actually, because it quickly becomes a race between my desire to eat slowly and my lust for fast dissipating shade. This is the town of Dawson. The silo is the first thing I reach in the town, but I think I can see the other side. It’s so quiet. There is the quietness of the road, undercut by the low rumbling of fast distant cars, which swells and wanes with such frequent consistency that its roar is swept back into the unconscious fabric of silence. Then there is the quietness of this town—a real lonely silence, one that feels either peaceful or dead. I don’t know that anyone even lives here, maybe it’s one of those towns where people come to work and leave at 5 to go back to their families somewhere else. I wonder how the town is at night, if it even exists, or if it is simply sucked away into some infinite spinning nothingness until the first 1998 rusting red pickup pulls up for work at 5 in the morning and it snaps back to slow-decaying reality. Across the road and down a ways I hear a man and a woman bickering, so I look up, but I don’t really hear them, I see them as forms moving and shifting in the heat of the high noon, but their sounds are lost to my true ears sitting there under the silo—I just watch them, and just like that they are gone again, spinning into infinite nothingness somewhere. Strange rural town bugs crawl around me, as foreign-looking as the people. They are desperate just like me for the shade, although I don’t think they know my pain, for I’ve just been five hours without it. 

Dawson is too lonely. I need to get out and keep moving. Not that the road is any less lonely. I think that is the silly thing about being a traveler—he's no more than a sad failure to settle. I believe any person wants to settle deep down, no matter what they say. People want to be in the best place for them and they want to be happy, simple as that. Why would a traveler go someplace if he didn’t think it was the best place for him, in some way? And then that changes, and he’s not happy anymore, and it’s off again. Maybe travelers set the bar too high, maybe they need to learn to compromise and sit still a while. Then again, maybe all people are travelers, and the great majority of people got unhappy a long time ago when they settled, and now they’re just convincing themselves over and over and over again I am happy I am happy I am happy. So maybe the travelers and the settlers are both unhappy, I don’t know. All I know is travelers are unhappy. So maybe I should stay in Dawson a while…but I’m losing time.

In a minute I’m out of Dawson and back on the road. (“Want a ride somewhere?” says a pickup. “It’s hot out today.” “No…” and it gets harder to say so each time…)

You’d think, maybe from seeing Castaway or reading “Far Side” comics, that it takes weeks of isolation before you go crazy and start talking to volleyballs. In reality, it’s about 5 hours. Maybe the blazing sun boring into my scalp through my Sox cap doesn’t help, maybe it doesn’t help that the general scenery has changed less than it does in a Cormac McCarthy novel, but I find myself chatting me up like I’m an old friend.

“Man, this walk is sure taking a long time.”
“No kidding,” I say. “I think my feet are starting to hurt.”
“Good thing we decided on shoes!”
“Yeah, that’d’ve sucked. WHOO IT’S HOT!”
“Bam!”
“I can’t wait to get there,” I say. “Mmm gonna be good.”
“Champaign, AiiyyAH!!”

I like me. I’m kind of goofy, sort of a character. I get along with me well, and I kind of remind myself of my friend Conor. I only wish I had more to talk to me about, but this landscape has really worn my capacity for critical thinking down to a stub. I guess I can not think at all, it’s what I’ve been doing for most of the trip anyway. 

I decide not to talk about the landscape, just observe it. I and I remain silent for a while in sort of awestruck appreciation for the sheer beauty in emptiness. Just like white can be the most powerful color in a painting, so can Illinois’ utter flat blandness be translated into unabridged beauty. If each acre of view added a set amount of beauty to the final sum of a landscape, then Illinois would be the prettiest state in the country next to Kansas and Nebraska. Provided you are able to see over the corn, you can almost make out Indianapolis ahead of you and Kansas City behind you. There’s something undeniably evocative about Midwestern farmland. Maybe it was planted in our blood by 18th century expansion brochures, or the Homestead Act, but it’s there, the feeling of unwritten potential on a blank tilled slate, the infinite infancy of American cropland. Coming from above: the warm blue and white of placid skies, the dark green of distant trees (all classic oak and maple), the golden brown of crops, the bright verdancy of the grass at my feet, and the reflection of all colors, the black of the road pining away to other skylines. 

And the purple witch tits. 

A purple witch tit—the name I’ve assigned this shit plant—is a ubiquitous indigo flower that resides along the edges of Illinois highways. Why it grows solely within twenty inches of the roadside I have yet to come up with a reasonable answer. I doubt very much that paved asphalt provides many essential nutrients to purple witch tits. Perhaps, I think to myself, all the water runoff from the highway on rainy days catalyzes their growth. I don’t buy into that theory because a) a marginally higher intake of water doesn’t justify the sheer explosive dominance of healthy, strong little purple witch tits and b) if it did, then other plants would benefit too, and we’d have jungles thousands of miles long and twenty inches wide along every highway in America. But we don’t; we have only purple witch tits, and it is my personal dark conspiracy that some generous asshole planted them everywhere for our 70 mph visual pleasure, because yes, at 70 mph filtered through bug gut centimeter-thick glass, purple witch tits are absolutely splendorous additions to the landscape. Children learning colors and boring suburbanites can be entertained for minutes on end by highway bookend color streaks, pretending on their way to Podunk that they are flying in between landing strips on the violet runways of Aubergine Airlines. I can just see some well wisher Bible metaphor man sowing seeds from the window of his car as he drives, as if the whole damn highway is a garden for his knobby plants. 

They are somewhat pretty, the flowers—fish fin purple petals with ragged indigo edges clawing out from their centers. Pretty, very pretty, until their warty little appendages touch against your leg as you walk. When this happens, all virtue of the plant is lost to its up close ugliness. Any beauty, edibility, medicinal qualities, all lost to its up close ugliness. 

It takes some time to build up a hatred like this. As I first began my trip, purple witch tits were some small annoyance, nothing more; an easily ignorable irk. But a note to my someday fiancĂ©e: anyone who says that time eradicates the hatred of bad habits or little irritations, that person is full of shit. Anyone who’s ever had a college roommate can confirm that. There’s no hump to get over, no soft agreeable landing on the other side. Purple witch tits do not grow on you, unless you count reaching for my calves and ankles as growing on me. Within a number of hours, I’m prepared for the Sisyphean quest of ripping out each and every stalk of purple witch tit on Old Route 36, one by one, every single stem. Had I known at the time that purple witch tits fold up and lose their pretty color with the late evening, I would have counted the hours minutes and seconds with joy until their temporary demise, because with an ugliness so offensive, one can only wish even more ugliness upon it. 

Purple witch tits, then, are my primary companions on my trip. I later find out that this plant is known in real life by real botanists as chicory, and I resolve never to eat chicory again, if only to decrease demand for it.

Also among my companions are the only slightly less common pink candy noses (milkweed) and the little white-flower weed too boring for me to assign a fake name to (Queen Anne’s lace). I don’t know why these weeds are so wildly omnipresent on Illinois highways, but I hate them all in equal individual ways like a mother loves her children. 

My only respite from the gaudy pink white and blue flower parade on the roadside and the horrific dangers of the road itself is the train tracks running alongside the highway about 15 meters to the left. It is my secret bitter conspiracy that railway builders space out the sleepers just close enough to make them incredibly awkward to walk upon. It comes to mind that walking on rail tracks might be illegal, but this is America, and I’m innocent until I know I’m guilty, so to hell with it. Now where is my hobo pack? I should look good, in case someone takes a picture. Off in the distance ahead a horn bleats and wails and hollers, and whoop off the tracks for a minute, wave to the conductor, back on the tracks. A half an hour later a big giant one carrying a bunch of steel boxcars comes chugging and roaring and global warming from behind me, and I can only imagine it must’ve simply exploded through the one I saw going the other direction earlier and kept on going unhindered. 

I don’t like trains, no matter how much I like American tradition. They’re grotesque, hot, steamy slabs of iron riproaring across the serene farmland, big metal brutes, blunt instruments trying to slice open the land and doing a pretty good job of it, if you ask me. There’s nothing good about a train these days. 

One thing the tracks illuminate even more than the road is the endlessness. Maybe something about the narrower tunnel of vision unraveling away for days, straight as an arrow, don’t even think about wavering from this eternal line, here to the Atlantic, rigid and true American, austere, stolid, UNCHANGING. Simple and clean. Nothing to misunderstand about it—you’re alive and in the grass, and what else so you want?

I’m getting a little uncomfortable in the heat.

3 comments:

  1. You will love my mom for this Robert, she used to stop on roadsides and dig up the chicory so we could plant it at home. She did you a favor and removed it from the roadside. Luckily you didn't know me when I lived at the house she managed to grow it at.

    ~ Lauren

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  2. Your writing in general is just getting damn better than the better it already was. Phew.

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