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Fleet of Foot

Backward, March

USA | Thursday, 15 May 2014 | Views [74] | Scholarship Entry

I’m standing on the top of a concrete wall. Ahead of me, the estuary ripples like a counterfeit sea, with only the bridge stretching clear to the horizon to promise an opposite shore. Salt water is drying on my hands.

Behind me, my feet have left a furrow in the grass. The tracks run back across the road into the jungle of the old golf course, destroyed nine years ago during the last big storm, and from there into the city with its homes on stilts, begrimed old bricks, and prayer flags wavering on cycad streets. It’s a beguiling place, but if you keep chasing my footprints backward, they’ll leave town.

They’ll cross a flooded forest where a single frog might speak up in the long, cool day.

Keep walking. Sometimes you’ll see from a scuff in the dirt where I sat by the roadside, chewing oily meat in one hand and shaking the grit from my shoes with the other. You’ll leave the trees behind you and enter another imaginary sea, hills rolling up and down in miles of oak, mesquite, and juniper. By this point, you’ll have been chasing me for about a month, and it’ll soon be getting warm – just as, for me, this is where the winter eased at last, and I stopped waking up to diesels growling in the fog.

Soon after this, if your luck is like mine, an acacia thorn will punch most of the way through your left foot. The wound will put you in a hospital that night, but, if your luck is like mine, it will heal.

By the time it gets truly hot, you’ll be in the worst place you could be: deep desert, with the heat bouncing up from my footprints like drops of water dazzling on a skillet. The mountains behind you will be bright with flowers, but not as bright as I found them when the first gales of winter brought snow. It was so cold I couldn’t show my face for fear my eyes would freeze, but you’ll be lucky if you reach the far side of the desert without crumpling under heat exhaustion. There’s no good time of year to be crossing this place, so you’ll grit your teeth and get out, like I did.

You’ll fall in love, or out of it, depending on which way you’re traveling.

One autumn day, many mountains later, you’ll emerge from a long, dark tunnel to find tall forests falling away ahead of you. You’ll quicken your step. By now, my footprints will be faint and scoured by seven months of rain and runoff, and for you, the winter will be coming soon. You’ll follow my tracks to the water’s edge, to another city, to a stony shore – to the other side of North America.

Tags: 2014 Travel Writing Scholarship - Euro Roadtrip

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