“If you look out the right window, there’s a Western Meadowlark on a fence post. That’s the first one we’ve seen the whole day.”
“Okay.” I know what a Western Meadowlark looks like so I don’t move from my position in the backseat, but if I don’t answer my grandma she’ll tell me to sit up and look at it. Even at six I understand that ‘if’ is not a command and ‘okay’ is not a promise.
I am lying across the backseat of my grandparents’ light blue Honda Civic hatchback. In the days before seatbelt laws, I have loosely constructed a nest from the clutter that fills the car: a blanket across the seat protects me from the protruding seatbelts and the odd pinecone; a camera bag serves as my foot rest; and one of my grandpa’s quilted flannel jackets is balled up under my head. I am concentrating on a word find while the three of us, my grandparents and I, head for the beach.
When we all go on a trip together, my grandfather drives. My grandmother tends to get distracted by the view and as a result can be a bit reactive with the brakes. Grandpa doesn’t talk much when he’s driving except to mumble appropriate responses to her observations.
“Will you look at that barn, it’s practically blown over!”
“It sure is!” His response is both animated and automatic. Like me, he probably knows that my grandmother’s enthusiasm is best returned right away unless one wants to get into a longer conversation about barns and their interesting propensity to fall down along roadsides.
When it is just Grandma and me in the car, we will develop these themes at length. She wonders whose barn it might be and what the poor situation is that has led to this overt state of neglect. Maybe somebody died. Or maybe the land has been sold to someone disinterested in barns. She is interested in a lot of the things she sees. We will stop the car and take the barn’s picture. She will explain how the textures of the washed out wood will be very lovely against the tall yellow grasses growing along its sagging sides. She will carefully crop out the tractor overgrown with berry brambles so that the composition won’t be too busy—but leave in the leaning fence posts that seem to point to the sunken roof. We are almost certain that owls have taken up in the eaves, but the closeness of the road is probably keeping the foxes away. If there are any within reach from the public side of the fence, she will gather dried teasel stems or cattails while I walk along the ditch that is inevitably next to the road, picking at white Queen Anne’s Lace and yellow Buttercups. She will get back in the car only after her curiosity has been fully expounded upon and the scene recorded.