Of all possible times, Nancy had to have
her radiology appointment in Ukiah
the day after the reggae festival.
Not only was traffic jammed at the site,
but a sign warned of one hour delays.
Caltrans never does delays like that.
I imagined a police diversion
with dope-sniffing dogs checking every car.
Miles north of Willits, traffic stopped and creeped
in a way that supported my opinion.
So what if we had no marijuana?
A delay like this would make us late
and we’d have to come back again.
I made a U-turn back to Reynolds Highway,
looking at my map for a Willits bypass.
On the map, Tomki Road looked okay,
through valleys instead of ridgetop squiggles
around the bend to Redwood Valley.
I was surprised when the pavement ended,
but the gravel was graded smooth until
the road suddenly forded the dry creek.
We were somewhere in the middle of a ranch
with dry grass and oaks, no buildings,
no choice but to try to keep going.
I managed to dodge the boulders.
The road forded the creek over and over,
each one harder than the one before,
finally in and out of muddy water.
I never was so glad to see pavement.
Each corner, each mile, fast as possible.
Nancy’s back really hurt from the bumpy ride,
but we reached the clinic door just on time.
In the hallway,
people walk back and forth,
air conditioner noise like radio static.
The physical therapist talks softly
to Nancy about her ankle.
She cries, “Ouch!”
The air conditioner sounds
like an amp turned up too loud.
A deafening fuzzed guitar
should start any moment.
The air conditioner stops.
The plaster texture of the walls
matches the ceiling tiles.
I hear Nancy tell him
the same stories she’s told me
over and over.
When I stopped at the Miranda Market
to buy Nancy some Dr. Peppers,
she wanted to stop at the handicraft store.
I bought her a couple of blue sarongs
and we looked at the Indonesian sculptures.
Let’s go. It’s a long way to Redding.
Between Bridgeville and Dinsmore,
the road narrowed to less than two lanes,
the center stripe disappeared.
We passed the side road to Ruth Lake,
backed up on on a sunny Sunday,
climbed over the ridge of South Fork Mountain.
We stopped in Platina for a late lunch.
I had a veggie burger and
Nancy a grilled cheese sandwich.
We turned left onto Platina Road,
out of redwoods and pines,
to brushland and sick-looking oaks.
The road climbed the edge of a lava flow,
spectacular views of ridges and mountains
across a deep wide valley.
On top of the flow, a barbed wire ranch
posted lengthy signs, forbidding us
to trespass, hunt, shoot, mine, or loiter.
We got a map of Redding, found our way
to a Motel 6 near Interstate 5.
Nancy turned the heat up all the way.
I left her with a Burger King Whopper,
and went to the Barnes and Noble Bookstore
and bought Richard Dawkins’ The Ancestor’s Tale.
All night long the room was so hot,
I couldn’t have even a sheet over myself.
The heater continuously went either
mmmmmmmm! or whooooosh!
until setting off the smoke alarm
with a scent of burnt toast at 7 AM.
After a grumpy Quest for Coffee,
Nancy went into her appointment
with the Worker’s Comp orthopedist.
I was surprised when she came out perky.
This doctor confirmed the diagnosis
of nerve and disk damage in her neck.
Then we went to see the Sundial Bridge,
a footbridge like a giant Celtic harp,
decked with green glass tiles set in runners
over the Sacramento River.
Nancy looked beautiful in her brown dress
despite the pain lines on her face.
We ate at the museum restaurant.
By the time we left Turtle Bay Park,
the speckled clouds of morning became
a deep gray overcast, then a drizzle,
then a cold rain to race over the mountains
before it could turn to sleet and snow.
Sitting in my car
parked in Stephen’s Grove,
listening to the whoosh,
wet road vehicles
clinging to the bends
of the Avenue,
looking at gray sky,
grayed-out bluegreen boughs,
grayed-out redwood bark,
I wonder if my
feelings would be best
ignored or explored.
I felt old when I
was a young man, so
how do I feel now?
copyright © 2005, 2009 Carl Miller
Painting, “La Barge Meadows”: 2004, watercolor and colored pencil on paper, 9 x 12 inches, detail 7.5 x 9 inches.