Yesterday, somewhere on Interstate 57, a strange smell floats in through the General’s air filters. It’s not manure, for the first time since I crossed into Kentucky. And it’s not that faintly biscuity smell, either, like the aroma of healthy but unwashed skin, that I love because it reminds me of the summers in France.
It’s the smell of heliotrope.
Where it could be coming from, I don’t know, since there are nothing but dark, furrowed fields on either side of me, with so many silos that I begin to wonder if the farmers of Illinois might all be Freemasons or something.
If it weren’t for the signs that periodically materialize by the roadside, proclaiming “Amazing Arcola” and “Welcome to fabulous Farina!”, I could be convinced that this entire highway is static, and the countryside merely a backdrop reel continuously running in a loop behind me.
Sometime around 5.45pm, I start to whimper uncontrollably. This happens often enough that I’ve stopped trying to understand what’s behind it, and just let it play out.
Today, I’m having a terrible time writing, so I fold up my ambition for the day and put on my shoes and head down the road to the sign that says “road ends.” Beyond it is a broad swath of concrete leading over a rise, with dark, furrowed farmland on either side, pinked with little green shoots. The sky in the west is blindingly pale. The air smells like something familiar I’ve forgotten, like the names of dishes your relatives used to cook. The wind, unobstructed by any trees for miles, pillows into the palms of my hands and squishes palpably through my fingers. Caught in the branches of the burr oak tree, it roars like a waterfall.
The smell and the sunlight and the static roar of the wind make me dizzy. Ideas come fast when I can’t hear myself think. If only, I wish, I could sit on the top of this rise all day and write. I’d be unstoppably genius, with no one around me. There’s a lot to be said for paper. For the journal and nature only. The wind tugs at my arms and pillows against my neck and if only it were possible to strip naked up here on the rise, the way I can in a room with a closed door and blinded windows, and let the elements beat the ideas out of me the way you beat dust from a rug.
Swallows dip and robins hop and everything is singing, including some delirious freedom in my head that feels its way out in an open place like this where no one is watching, not even me. Where there’s no one to expect anything.