Quimby crept out of our hotel room in Rapid City two hours before sunrise and we awoke Monday morning feeling melancholy. We had reached the northern apogee of our trip and with the car loaded and the oil topped off, we pointed the Pontiac south for the first time in two weeks to begin the long journey home. As we rolled across the grasslands of the high plains, we met rain for the first time, building in the tall thunderheads and then unloading furiously like the tantrums of an angry and vengeful god. We drove slowly south, back into Wyoming and then Colorado, reaching Denver and the front range of the Rockies as the sun slipped behind the peaks and the darkness closed in around our ship of chrome and steel.
We climbed into the mountains on US 285, a desolate stretch of highway that weaves its way through lesser-known ski towns proximate to Denver and then sinks back into rolling plains populated by little more than sage brush and steer. I kept a watchful eye on the gas gauge as numerous stations were already dark, cognizant that the range of the old Pontiac is 200 miles on level ground and even less when climbing through the mountain passes. Running under half a tank tempted fate. I pulled into one station just as the lights were going out and with no fuel to be had, I took the the opportunity to change the kids into their pj's while a "closed" sign buzzed tauntingly from the office window. Samantha climbed into the front seat and Parker flopped out on the twin-sized bench seat in back. The gibbous moon rose early, and it turned the long stretches of pavement into a silver ribbon wrapping itself around hills and valleys like a gift from the night itself. John Fogerty sang on the tinny dash speaker and underneath, the low rumble of the exhaust filled in the missing bass. Samantha fell asleep beside me, head nestled in a pillow against the side glass, and in the moonlight and soft, warm glow of the dash lights, I wondered which of her memories from this trip would survive the ruthless filter of time. I know she won't remember many of the things that pulled the breath from my lips--the stillness of the frosty morning in Yellowstone, the wild horses galloping across the Black Hills, the Milky Way rising in a cauldron of black. Maybe one day she'll discover the quiet grandeur hidden in those precious musical rests that punctuate the drone of everyday life. I hope she does. One has to listen.
I reached over to turn up the radio so I could join Mr. Fogerty. "I wanna know o o, have you ever seen the rain?" And then faintly from the other side of the seat Samantha's little voice perked up. "Daddy, I've been listening to you sing," and then she chimed in, "Coming down, on a sunny day."