The density of the trees along the side of the road further darken the night highway as Howard drives me along the expressway from Philadelphia to my hotel in Atlantic City. We are stuck in our second traffic jam, and it is another car accident, and I belatedly decide to pull on my seat belt. We knew the first one had to be bad long before we witnessed the car flipped over on the side of the road, the roof flattened like a pancake, alerted by the four fire trucks, Lord only knows how many firemen standing there in their bulky khaki and yellow uniforms and police officers and no ambulances. The wounded have been taken away.
The second accident has Howard in a tizzy, his boss wants him back to Phillie by midnight for another job and he doesn’t like driving fast, “I’ll get you there safely,” he said the minute I met him and he repeats his safety first rule as he drives slowly in the passing lane.
I’m exhausted after a day of travel, though it hasn’t been inordinately difficult by any means; it’s just been long. The car ride to Atlantic City from Phillie is the last piece of the travel puzzle and after a day of fake air at DIA, the plane and now the van, I’m feeling suspended in the universe.
But those trees along the side of the road get me to thinking. I’ve spent the night in Rocky Mountain National Park and though the forest there is dark, it is different from these lush, sexy maple trees that will soon begin to change to yellow, red and brown before shedding leaves every which way. Just before I left on this trip I had experienced a cloying nostalgia while at Home Depot at the sight of those enormous paper bags meant for collecting leaves. Once upon a time I filled over 30 of them each October. Fall, raking and the air that made me wear a wool sweater and brought me back to life with it’s New England sweetness, and it’s layers of memory sandwiched between the coming of winter and ending of summer. Is this not the sweetest season? The air smells like clean laundry and bees are confused, stinging whenever their sluggish bodies feel threatened, and the greens and blues of nature become so sharp, it brings startled tears to your eyes.
Those maple trees are thicker than the pine and aspen trees in the forests in Colorado.
We come upon the second accident and this one is worse though the car is still upright. Four cars were involved, but the sight of it made both of us say another instant prayer, “I hope you are okay, whoever you are.” The driver seat was intact, but the car was facing in the wrong direction and the back seat was nonexistent. If someone was in the back seat, I doubt they made it.
Eventually, the police have us single file, one tight lane past the accident, everyone slowing down in reverence and morbid curiosity, and we are on our way again, 30 miles from Atlantic City.
We are quiet until we reach the last toll. I play with my phone and the van radio plays music from Grease, and Howard talks about how much he loves the smell of the ocean and if only he could stop for a quick dip without getting caught by his employer and how he loves to open his windows wide every time he gets here no matter the season. I tell him to do so now, that I am starved for the scent of the sea, and Howard rolls down the windows and the ocean drifts through smelling of low tide, and I think, no matter how much I love Colorado and my mountains and my open space and the gentleness, intelligence and humanity of Boulder, the density of those maple trees and the crowded highways where people beep their horns and are a bit rough around the edges, the romance of the trees and stink of the ocean still feels like home.
My heart straddles two worlds. I have two lovers. One that whispers to me of humidity and crispy leaves on the ground and deep mulchy soil and another who sings to me of the embrace of mountains rising out of the plains and winds that whip down the foothills every winter like a roaring giant and sunsets that pull you towards heaven. I belong in Colorado now.
Trees on the side of the road just before they begin to color and memories of feet kicking through their dry beauty, beaches where my hair curls and skin glistens and New England at it’s finest moment, the sharpness of fall evenings that harken to fires in a fireplace, chili on the stove and football in the background. This is in my blood. This is where I’m from.
We enter mini-Vegas aka Atlantic City with the windows open wide and I tell Howard, “thank you for getting me here safely,” and I am not thinking or worrying about car accidents.