Be as you are
THERE is a road in this high desert valley of home that I am always hesitant to cross but that alerts my senses to beauty. No one lives on it and very few travel it, for its rugged track is a shortcut from this farm to a town that seems to exist for no more reason than the mountains there. I go there. For I seem attracted to things that have a hidden raison d'etre. The road is called Yellowstone. I wonder at this name, for it is hardly yellow or stony, nor does it go to any place of that name. It is barely road, rutted, and gets reshaped in spring mud washouts and is unfit on the best days in winter when hot sun bites through the freeze and brings up dark earth along its lonely track. From turnoff to turnoff measures about 20 miles.
I drive a 1962 Chevrolet truck that once belonged to a boatbuilder who came to our valley, built, and kept this truck shipshape, then returned 2,000 miles back to the sea, all before my time. I carry two cottonwood stumps in the bed that has faithfully transported everything from hulls to hay bales, and there is no four-wheel drive. My only knowledge of him, this truck: green, gray in the cab, the faded word SHIPWRIGHT in gold on the doors. I gave money for it to use for my bee business after it started up on the second crank after a year on two flat tires in a field by a barn. I would not take a newer vehicle across that isolated road; if I were to break down there would be not just a mechanical reason for it.
Days I cross that landscape - it has the feeling of crossing the roof of the world: You could fall off, and the way off is to climb higher to danger at each end. I seldom seem to plan crossing. I just end up going.
Last week for the first time I had reason to go other than for Town-that-just-is. I was having trouble with my bees, the winter being exceptionally cold in the mountains. I had put the bees to bed in the fall, done everything by the book. I had looked after them in all the storms. But by this day in February the hives, by lift, felt like empty cupboards. Normally, I feed sugar and water or stored comb honey in the spring. But here I was with a problem. I could not open the hives and risk letting warmth evaporate. I asked two beekeepers I knew for help. Both shook their heads: Do nothing until 50 degrees F. Well, 50 degrees F. was about as far away from Colorado as victory was for the Washington Redskins in this year's Super Bowl.
In Town-that-just-is, I recalled, there was an old lady-that-just-is. I remembered, for once I passed her house, a cabin, where at least 20 cats of all nationalities were fed on the porch. Above the porch was a weathered sign, ''Young's Honey Farm.'' Beekeepers notice one another. But there were no hives, I do remember that, and the lady feeding the cats seemed old.
I decided to cross over. I took SHIPWRIGHT up across that sea of peaks and swirls of twisted pine. Ice, broken ice, patches of hammered drift, and some parts dry road. I knew should I get stuck it would be hours or possibly days before someone came or one of the arrogant, low-flying pilots (this is not populated area, according to the Air Force) spotted an old truck probably left from the fall - for who could be foolish enough to attempt this now?
As I passed great stones fixed in the open rangeland that stretched 50 miles on each side of the road (I was up on the flats over 9,000 feet), they seemed friendly, shining, weather-smoothed, oh-so-still beings in this place of nothing. But, ah, there was something: '' . . . be in league with the stones of the field.'' A verse I had once thought something of I couldn't understand. Be-as-you-are-nothing-more-nothing-less, and it will go all right, they seemed to say. Steady on, SHIPWRIGHT, I thought. And we seemed to take on the right-to-be-doing-what-you're-doing of the stones . . . steady, easy, not too fast, not too slow - 10 more miles to go - the odometer in the truck must have broken years ago. . . .
By that night's moon and green-red-blue-yellow-white stars I thought true is something you always knew was true but didn't know you knew it. ''Oh, that's easy. Tilt the hive back and pour in two cups of dry sugar. They'll find the water for it on a nice day when it's not too cold. . . .'' The lady in Town-that-just-is had known it. Perhaps she can answer about stones, too.