Past Times by Terry Jones
Summer is the time to travel, and Carol and I often hit the road this time of year.
We have fond memories of taking a cruise to Alaska, flying to Hawaii, and driving across most of the continental U.S.
Although we have visited nearly every state, I have to say the West fascinates me the most. Its beauty is awe inspiring, and on one occasion we witnessed a true miracle.
Carol and I were in southern Utah visiting the Arches, Bryce Canyon, and Canyonlands national parks. This particular afternoon found us driving down a lonely stretch of road, quietly enjoying the scenery and listening to an oldies station.
Then I saw it.
There on the shoulder of the road sat a small statue of the Virgin Mary.
I zipped past her pretty fast, and it took a few seconds for my brain to register what I had seen.
“Did you see that?” I asked.
“Back there. There was a little statue of the Madonna sitting on the side of the road.”
“You mean one of those shrines where someone was killed in a car wreck?”
“No, it was just a statue about a foot tall.”
“A statue of Mary was sitting on the shoulder of the road. A statue of Mary, the Madonna?”
“Yes, just a statue of Mary. There was nothing else around it. It must be some sort of local custom.”
By now, Carol is looking at me with that “bless his heart” expression that husbands know so well, which means I have to turn around to prove that I’m not crazy.
There’s not another car within miles, so I make a U-turn, stomp the accelerator, and head back to the Madonna.
As we approach the site, I slow down, lean over the steering wheel to get a better look, and turn down the radio so I can see better.
“There. There it is.”
I point to the shoulder as we pass by and then quickly make another bat turn and head back.
The Madonna suddenly drops to all fours and scurries into the sage brush.
“Terry, it’s a prairie dog.”
With a straight face, Carol simply says, “Mary moves pretty good.”
A few miles down the road, she suddenly points up ahead and yells, “Look, it’s St. Peter! No, just a rabbit.”
“There’s Gabriel! Wait, it’s a tumbleweed.”
And on and on and on.
To this day I can see the Madonna standing on the side of the road.
Why she miraculously transformed into a prairie dog remains one of God’s mysteries.
What impresses me the most about the West is its vast emptiness.
You can often see fifteen miles or more down the road and not encounter another car along the way.
In some places, there is not even a tree or rock or hill in sight.
On another trip, we were driving through a flat, featureless prairie, and I began to wonder how the pioneers were able to navigate such land. Carol didn’t share my curiosity.
“Look at this,” I exclaimed, sweeping my hand across the horizon. “There’s nothing out there, nothing to take a bearing on. How did people get from point A to point B with no landmarks to go by?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, how did the first wagon trains know where to go? Did they use a compass?”
“They might have.”
“The ground is packed so hard and the wind blows so much dust, a horse wouldn’t leave any tracks. How did posses find outlaws on the run? If I had a horse and you had a horse and
I had a two-day head start, how would you find me out here?”
“It’d be tough.”
“Okay, let’s say you’re Matt Dillon and I just robbed the bank. By the time Chester gets word to you and you pack some supplies and tell Miss Kitty goodbye, I have a few hours head start. How would you track me down?”
I know I finally have Carol’s attention when she says pensively, “Well…..”
After a moment’s pause, she said, “I’d go outside town, camp for the night, have a drink and eat some beans, and then come back the next day and say, ‘Well, I lost him.’” Matt Dillon she’s not.
Get out on the road this summer and enjoy this beautiful country.
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