Old Roads, New Stories: Traveling Through Time, by Rob Carney

Traveling Through Time

By Rob Carney

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Old Roads, New Stories: A Literary Series

Driving West-Northwest on the Interstate

There’s a road sign along I-70 near the Utah/Colorado border that says, “Travel Through Time.” I didn’t exit, though. I figured it wasn’t being literal, just giving directions to a byway through eons of rock, these cool striations layered like chapters in The Book of This Planet, yes, but I wouldn’t actually be exiting 2019.

Ridgway, Colorado

I was driving back from a reading I’d done in Ridgway, Colorado—The Open Bard Series—and everyone was nice, a whole townful of Arts District patrons; you should go.

Early March. They call it “Mud Season” there, like it’s spring’s first flower or crop, like this town is the spot mud aims for in its annual migration, herding in or winging down then getting busy with some serious breeding: mud displays to spark female attention, mud challengers to last year’s champion, mud anthems and warbles and bugle calls—they named it right. The yards and streets were muddy.

Sparks Stadium

Since I grew up in western Washington, the capital of rain, I know about mud. We used to play football in it, our town’s two high schools having to share one field at the old Sparks Stadium. The grass didn’t last. How could it? It never got a Friday night off, so by mid-October, things were a slogfest of mud, mud that smelled like crab shells and fish rot, like an act of penance, almost holy.

The grounds crew figured adding sand was a good idea—Maybe dry things out a bit. Maybe solid-up the footing a little—but they were wrong. Now there was grit on top of all the rest. Grit in your mouthpiece. Grit between your forehead and helmet pads rubbing… we’d hit the showers with our uniforms still on, all our pads and cleats and everything.

Layers of sediment, win or lose, washing away.

After 1985

Nobody younger than me has a story like that. They burned down the stadium. Simple enough to do since they’d built it with wood.

Our yearbook included a photo of it: flame-waves crashing into fire-cliffs, and more flame spraying up. It really hit me. I don’t know why.

The new stadium has Astroturf, and they crowned it in the middle for drainage, and the only smells now are normal ones: sweat and popcorn, maybe perfume from the marching band girls.

Maybe I Just Like Old Things

My coat, for example; it’s old. It gets compliments: the guy at Hruska’s making morning food, Jenny McDonald at her Mardi Gras party, people walking by me on campus—they say, “I like your coat.” I’ve had it for 31 years. It’s 40 years older than that. I found it in a thrift store near Tacoma in 1988.

And my clocks: an old pendulum one from a second-hand store in Spokane, and another that used to hang in my grandparents’ house: from the 1950s, wood and metal, this atomic-looking sun.

And my antique furniture, my standing lamps and old cabinets… I guess it’s like that sign in Colorado: traveling through time.

The Colorado Plateau

It might be one of those weird things while driving, when it’s hours of your own thoughts and not much else, but the buttes and mesas in this section of the country seem to move, to float along west-northwest, a barnacled armada. This isn’t the ocean; I know that. And that smoke pluming out behind them is really clouds. That’s the sky; it’s gray and overcast; but still…

Maybe all the sagebrush dotted around could be bison if they’d just stand up, if they’d just quit kneeling and stampede, or graze, or walk on over here and hijack the freeway. If it took all day for them to cross, I wouldn’t mind. I could wait for that miracle.

Poems in Alleys

Here’s what I mean about patrons: The people of Ridgway have filled their town with poems. They’re painted on metal and bolted to walls. There’s a map; you can tour them and read, like walking around in a book, a book with a binding of sky and trees and a cat stretched out in a windowsill lit up with sun. We could use a lot more of this. Town after town. A whole library.

Mud vs. Not-Mud / Good vs. Bad

A bucket of clams is mud, but kidnapping refugee children while you’re lying through a policy smile: not mud at all; there’s mud and there’s slime, and there’s a difference, and if Kirstjen Nielsen doesn’t know that, something’s wrong and crucial things are broken inside her.

My bad-ass Maine Coon cat, he’s mud. He’s got a new way of going outside: stalking in a circle ’round the chair while I open the door, then a lunge-dash past me out to the porch. What is he practicing? I don’t know, but I know it’s mud.

And Robert Frost is mud, and “Harrison Bergeron” by Vonnegut, but the novels of Thomas Hardy (I’m sorry) aren’t mud, at least not to me.

Making the coffee with a French press: mud. The Utah Utes in the Rose Bowl: mud. And that band from the Northwest, Modest Mouse, “Float On”: like mud that’s learned to sing.



Rob CarneyRob Carney’s new book The Book of Sharks is available now from Black Lawrence Press. Previous books include 88 Maps, Story Problems, and Weather Report.
Read poetry by Rob Carney appearing in Terrain.org: 6th Annual Contest Finalist, 4th Annual Contest Winner, and Issue 30. And listen to a new radio interview with Rob Carney, and here’s an older radio interview.

Header photo by Simmons Buntin.


Terrain.org is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.