I leave Chaco buoyant, my clarity matching the crisp and bright of northern New Mexico. As Charley predicted, Chaco Canyon has been the perfect end point for this trip of mine, offering simplicity and reflection, even if just for a day. I sense I'm back where I started forty-odd years ago - leaving the Southwest; starting a new chapter; the same, but now accepted, mix of confidence and anxiety; heading to the same place, one I've called home for forty-two years. I know the task ahead - three long days of driving. It will not be slow. But it's time to be there.
I have one last visit to make, this one with Bill Tydeman and his family in Lubbock, Texas. Bill is an archivist with the library at Texas Tech University. When I first met him, he was the librarian at Mars Hill College in Madison County and had ideas of starting a photo archives that would focus on work from the mountain region of North Carolina. He began buying images from my Madison County work and later hired me to administer the archive. Bill, more than any one person, got me started and gave me confidence that my photographs had lasting value. It's important for me to see him.
I'm not sure where, or why, I get off track, but somewhere in west Texas I miss a turn and it takes a while before I realize I've added 100 miles to my trip to Lubbock. I didn't want to be driving after dark, but I will be. I get to town late and in this very-easy-to-navigate place, with Bill's wife Leslie guiding me, I can't find their house. I'm confused, with no sense of direction, and when I find myself going the wrong way on a highway entrance ramp, I know I'm in trouble. I pull over and think slow, I think of this morning's raven, and it dawns on me I haven't eaten in a long while. My blood sugar.
Change is often hard to accept and much of my trip has been an effort to do just that, to surrender to time's passage. My friend is dealing with similar issues that for him are being played out with health problems, changes at work, a young wife and far younger son. But he's still doing vital work with a series of environmental writers and photographers, including authors Barry Lopez and John Lane. Our time together is the same as it has always been - talking, looking at photographs, exchanging ideas, encouraging. But the time is also different, changed as we both have aged, transitioning, opening new chapters. It's disquieting, but I leave with a phrase that's new to me, critical regionalism.
The next two days will be a gut check - about 650 miles a day, much of it on I-40, a trucker's paradise, a small car's nightmare. The first part of the day is a flat glide through small-town Texas - Guthrie, Benjamin, Vera, Seymour - like I'm passing through lives of people I know. And the land itself, dormant now, and brown, bracing for wind and snow and ice, and soon enough, Texas heat. The sky remains open, big, the far-as-the-eye-can-see horizon. I stop to piss and eat the leftovers of last night's ribs and brisket. It's an interstate exit, a crossing road and empty field, nothing more. The road to Geronimo.
I'm thankful to get off of the interstate at Newport, 435 miles in Tennessee this afternoon, an hour to go. It's well after dark, but I know the road home all too well. I see my first Confederate battle flag in six weeks. Hwy. 25-70 east is quiet, empty really, and I see no cars until I get to Hot Springs. It's not a warm night, but I open the windows to breath the mountains. I turn on Waylon Jennings singing a Billy Joe Shaver song, Willy the Wandering Gypsy and Me. And the resinous line: "Willy, he tells me that doers and thinkers say movin' is the closest thing to being free."