The Slow-Cooked Sentence

Preoccupied with roads since my return

Rachael Conlin Levy

The stillness which greeted me after a week of travel was jarring. It made me feel edgy, adrift, and I was reluctant to reach for the routines that used to satisfy me. A week passed and still I cast about, finding it hard to settle down after watching hundreds of miles pass by my window, witnessing dark forest and heavy clouds yield to naked mountain and endless sky. On one of our days in the car we’d stopped by the side of the road to allow someone to stretch their legs, or to pee, or to insist that an argument be finished outdoors, and as I waited my eyes traced car ruts that cut through the snow-dusted desert. Realizing that this pit stop would go on a bit longer, I decided to follow the thawing tracks although my shoes were impractical and my wandering was noticed too soon. But for a few minutes I turned my back on my family and their requests shrank and faded as I waded into the solitude. Ten feet deep into the silence, the wind sang in my ears although I could not decipher its secrets.


I am a woman of wide-open spaces and heavy silence. We crossed into this unending and muted landscape and I felt my chest yield, my heart crack open as my eyes burned from the brilliant light. These were my mountains, my light and my aching loneliness.


It is another day in the car, another strip of empty road under emptier sky. We had stopped to search for small sagebrush because Marcel had an idea that he would grow these craggy, gray-green plants in Seattle. We spread out across the prone hills as exposed and rumpled as my body that shivered from the wind cutting through my jacket, and I was reminded of my children at a younger age when they’d slide their small, cold hands beneath my shirt to warm themselves in the soft folds of skin. As I climbed back into the car, I spotted a tick on my pants, crawling toward my waistband. When I went to flick it away, it flattened itself into a tiny, purple disc, so I found a rock and scraped it off. It must have been waiting on the edge of a bush for a cow, heavy and dull with pregnancy, to lumber past and then it would cling to her fur and slip through the thick hairs until it found flesh to feed off. It was calving season here in the desert and the herds were flush with babies while the sky was filled with eagles and hawks eager to feed on the afterbirth.

Preoccupied with roads since my return

This interplay between bird and beast brought us, at one point in our travels, to the edges of the shallow Carson River because we’d accepted an invitation by a outfitter to test the river for an upcoming rafting trip that would bring together bird enthusiasts and ranchers. Under bright sun we launched kayaks and rafts into the cold, muddy water, but as the hours passed, the sun disappeared behind clouds and the wind picked up. I watched the short life of a dust devil as it sprung to life on the sand bank, ripped across the river’s surface and slammed itself into the river’s bank and out of existence. I slowly chased a heron around river bends, gathered a killdeer’s feathers as they floated on the water’s skin, and, when the kayak ran aground, climbed into the river and pulled my boat into deeper water. I was stiff and chilled inside my wet suit by the time we stopped for lunch, so I pulled on a second pair of neoprene booties and gloves, an additional fleece jacket and my snow hat, but it was the sugar from a piece of black licorice that gave me the warmth and the will to continue to the end of this watery road.




Another day and, again, we have stopped, this time becoming part of a small traffic jam in the middle of nowhere as we wait for a front loader to push back the Winnemucca Sand Dunes threatening the highway. The wind blows sand around the cars and under the cars as the mountain passes through us and continues to spread like a rumpled bed sheet across forty miles of desert floor. Two, maybe three times a year, the sand dune migration must be turned back, and my family mimics this movement with our clothes and books and food that is packed and then spilled out of bags, and restuffed so it will spill again as we retrace this road, again and again. Each time I see friends, but not for long enough, and I eat at my parents’ table, but not often enough, before I must turn back.

With Kyndale, Fort Churchill, Nev.


3 responses to “Preoccupied with roads since my return”

  1. This was a pleasure to read. Thank you for allowing me to tag along on your adventures.

  2. kyndale says:

    I’m looking forward to that drive sometime!

  3. Rachael says:

    Denise, I’m looking forward to hearing of yours.

    Kyndale, I hope it will be soon!

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