a literary review
Flaming Gorge-Uintas National Scenic Byway—Wildlife through the Ages—Jurassic
Here on this spot, on US Highway 191 north of Vernal, Utah—the Morrison Formation—Dave pulled over and relieved himself on ancient soils. Stegosaurus wandered here.
Jurassic / CURTIS FORMATION / Home of Fossilized Squid
Back in the car, Dave expressed impatience with his wife about the weight she had gained.
On the Shores of an Ancient Inland Sea
Here on this spot, his problems. The failed resolution to quit smoking. The irretrievable loss of early dreams. The wailing of his firstborn.
Points of Interest
On this spot, a massacre of Indians by whites. On that spot, a massacre of whites by Indians. On this spot, the first white marriage, the first white baby. Dave’s first drive along this route, this Indian trail, on his way to a good job in the oil field.
Points of Comparison, after Some Years Have Passed
The covered wagon; the U-Haul. The pioneers; Dave and the wife and kids. The year 1860; the year 2019. Independence Rock then; Independence Rock now, a WYDOT rest area on 220.
Dave pulled in to the Independence Rock parking lot, a prairie of asphalt. He was at the wheel of a fifteen-foot U-Haul, the wife behind him in the Frontier. All three emerged from the pickup without looking at him and headed for the bathroom, the girls’ legs birdlike in their pink leggings. He skulked off to pee in the shadow of the rock. This was the goddamn opposite of a road trip, the American dream in which driving meant freedom. This was the opposite of freedom. This was the end. Dave and the wife were getting a divorce, and he was driving this moving truck for her, because that was the kind of guy he was, all the way to Gillette, where she had family and a job waiting for her. Dave glanced over at the facilities. What were they doing in there? He wandered across the parking lot. At the edge, he investigated the ditch. There lay a tattered camp chair, a piece of rain-soaked carpet, a man’s sneaker. Each with its story, no doubt about that. Things at the side of the road always served a memorial purpose.
Where Dave Is Going after This
That’s what he’d like to know, as he drove beneath an overpass designed to facilitate the migration of elk in western Wyoming. Things were being made easier for elk but not for Dave. Where was his infrastructure? Where was his overpass?
The U-Haul broke down outside Pinedale, Wyoming. In town, waiting for repairs, Dave bought and regretted buying a drink for the complaining girl who sat down next to him at the Corral Bar. She had brown eyes and a sharp, thin, desperately pretty face and a lot to say about her fiancé, who worked in the oil field. Dave nodded and stopped nodding and eventually said he had to go. Eventually she shrugged. He kept his word and left. He wandered around. At the town park, he stopped to read the historical marker, a four-by-six-foot wooden sign, painted National Park Service brown, with carved letters filled in with white, that told how the Astorians, a group of fur traders robbed by Indians, walked all the way back to St. Louis. Dave considered the implications of this story. While he stood there, the girl from the bar sent him a friend request on Facebook, which he would later accept.
Here on This Spot
Did this marker aid in memory? Was it memory in physical form? Was it the fact of the marker or its particular design that gave it this memorial power? Who had put it up? Would Dave’s friends and family be willing to commemorate him thus? Could there be a Historical Society of Dave, so to speak? Would any account of Dave be accurate? Could the repetitions of personal history be represented in terms of a singular event in a specific locale? Was the ordinariness of Dave worthy of a memorial? Could his routes be retraced so that the markers could be visited and learned from? Could he learn from them himself? Would such a monument say he’d loved his wife? Would it say that he would always love his girls?
In the life of the stegosaurus, with its brain the size of a walnut, the importance of that “wandering”: the search for a mate, the fear of predators, the migrations, the satisfactions.
Erica Soon Olsen was born in Hollywood, California. She is the author of Recapture & Other Stories (Torrey House Press), a collection of short fiction about the once and future West, and a micro-chapbook, Girlmine, flash fiction about the uneasy ways we live in the natural world (Bull City Press). She lives in northeastern Utah.