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A Long Drive into Night
Pillars of Salt, Post Two
I almost regret driving into New Mexico by night. Coming over the Arizona border, passing by Gallup and Thoreau, just north of Bluewater State Park, the long decent from Flagstaff levels out into a broad flatland with mesas dark against the deep blue horizon.
On our first drive to Phoenix, we had coasted alongside a freight train, driving fast toward clusters of rock formations. The brilliant red and white mesas with their stark plateaus were an environmental feature entirely new to me. As we approached, the train panting away just north of us, the totality of southwest aesthetic sensibilities dawned on me. It is easy to lose the sense of open grandeur evoked by the old Westerns flashing across my grandfather’s old TV when they are so boxed in and broken by commercials. Perhaps it was circumstance, but I felt as though I were entering a whole new world.
We had passed through the Navajo Nation during the height of Covid there. The reservation was on 36-hour lock-down, every gas station and trading post was closed, and the community was being decimated by disease. Just two weeks before our return trip, the Navajo Nation was able to announce no new cases, no hospitalizations, and no deaths from Covid that week. This was just as India’s current crisis was worsening and the latest row over international law and vaccine distribution was kicking up.
I have been lead to believe that one reason why indigenous groups like the Navajo suffered such devastating spread was, in part, due to the nature of life on the reservation. Especially at fault was intergenerational cohabitation, where grandparents lived with parents and children, sometimes aunts and uncles. I can see this being true, because that is how it spread in my own family.
My great-grandmother and her daughter cohabitated. But they lived on the same block as my great-grandmother’s other children and their spouses. They were always around one another, eating, talking, usually very loudly. So, my great-grandmother and two of her kids, my grandfather’s wife, my mother, several of my cousins — they all got it. Three of them were hospitalized. Two of them died.
I wonder if it is less to do with indigineity per se, and more to do with rural poverty. These communities that lean on one another, that depend on each other for support. They share property in common. They are each other’s lives. These material analogues are not so superficial, but the heart of a possible solidarity. I am trying, perhaps poorly, to think something beyond the question of a difference of degree or kind.
This time, was passed in the night, determined to make good time toward Texas.
We had stopped in Flagstaff to let Wendell, our son, play until he was tired. There was a nice park at the end of a cul-de-sac where we ate breakfast for dinner and watched the kid run around, struggling to turn a merry-go-round. He ran from thing to thing, laughing, until dusk began to fall and we changed him into jammies and put him in the car seat.
He fell asleep within an hour, night closing in, too tired to point out every big truck any more. I don’t know what to expect with him. I mostly don’t know what to do with him. I just hope he does his thing and doesn’t present me with too may opportunities to fail him.
We live together, my spouse, my son, and I, with my father-in-law. The three of us drive into the night, the first leg of a long journey to connect this young generation to his roots.