We reached Albuquerque just as the light began to rise; we were through the city and into the open desert in time for the dawn cloud-show of scarlet, sandstone and pearl. In the west, low clouds darkened the turquoise sky, and the early light burnished the edges of the far-off snow-deep mesas, so that the horizon was set like a stone in a Navajo bracelet.
I named the plants as we passed through New Mexico and into Arizona, greeting them as the friends they are: Hello, juniper. Hello, atriplex. Hello, rabbitbrush and mesquite. And ocatillo! So nice to see you all. Some names I had trouble remembering, though my mind's hands could still feel the texture and character of the plant: this one soft and leathery, this one brittle, watch those spines. Later this game kept me awake; by then, whichever of us wasn't driving was almost always asleep.
Snow started falling as we ate lunch in Flagstaff, and had gotten ahead of the plows on I-4o by the time we were back on the road. A fleet of giant trucks with Texas plates speeded past me, following each other too close and smug with their four-wheel-drive. I kept my distance, and secretly hoped to see them piled in a snowdrift later on. Once out of the mountains, the snow became rain with only the briefest interval of sleet, then slackened altogether.
Night came upon us before we reached Needles, and I could no longer see my plant friends to name them. I drove through Needles, to Barstow, then slept as he took us over Tehachapi and its forest of dancing arms. I slept until we reached 101, then shook myself awake for the familiar last leg to home. Bursts of rain escorted me through the fields of America's lettuce and artichoke and strawberries, invisible and infinite in the darkness. We arrived finally in the wee hours, smelling of car and slept-in clothes, and stepped into my parents' waiting arms. Then fell, insensate, into the waiting bed. Then slept like the dead.
Then woke, impossibly, at six-thirty, because the sun came up and we're farmers or stupid or something.