When I woke I could only see a faint blueness in the sky, it was not dawn yet. The cold, condensated air was biting. I adjusted the blankets covering me and burrowed down inside. I guessed it must be about ten degrees. I was camped in the middle of a roadside quarry, thick with red clay mud. Below me, the Chewaucan River bounced loudly over rocks as it tumbled its way out of the mountains. I tried to sleep a while longer, but my legs felt cramped and restless and the cold was unrelenting, so I sat up and pulled on my coat.
I retrieve my thermos full of tea from inside the foot box of my sleeping bag, and break open the seal. The warm inside is a nice contrast to the biting cold. The tea is sweet. I notice the outside of the thermos smells faintly like my feet. Oh well. I drink it up anyway.
Outside is still dark. There is no moon. There are no stars.
Finally admitting there’s no way I’ll fall back asleep, I arc my body up and over the front seat, to reach the ignition. The dash lights up, displaying the time and temperature. 9 degrees. 3:45AM. The headlights of my car illuminate the hillsides, covered in frosty, dormant grasses and the same red clay mud.
I pull on more clothes and start piling stuff up in the front seat, snacks mostly. Sliding back into the drivers seat, I am finally feeling warm again. I can see a faint predawn glow on the horizon; somewhere in Idaho the sun must be rising now. I put my car in drive and begin my descent back into the valley.
As the canyon opens up, I enter the tiny town along the river. The homes are cozy and unpretentious. Smoke is rising from their chimneys, a crust of frost on everything. Still.
The glow across the horizon changes from blue to pink to yellow and the band grows wider. After a while, it begins to illuminate the undersides of clouds. The sky looks like a sea, waves forming and crashing upside down. I drive my car south and then East again as I watch the eruption take place above me.
I’m somewhere near a lake when the sun finally breaks the horizon. The whole sky turns red violet, and then yellow orange. The dawn glows soft pink on the ground, and all around me. In the distance, I see a coyote running through the sagebrush, he stops to watch me. I pass one car. It is the only one I see all day. Yesterday, I saw no one at all.
There is a comfortable silence in my mind now as I wind my car through the Rabbit Hills. I see no rabbits, but a badger delights me by crossing the road in my full view. I think about bighorn sheep, hoping I see them in the canyons later. I know they are there, but I not have seen them yet.
I am thinking about nothing at all when the moon rises in the morning sky, from behind the mountain. I stop my car and get out beside the dried remains of an ancient lake bed. The ground is crackled, sprinkled with sage brush. I walk out into it. All around me, little birds flit from bush to bush, chattering tiny voices. Somewhere nearby, an owl hoots softly. The ground is soft underfoot. The air around me no longer biting.
I wonder if I could ever feel lonely in a place like this.