If Texas is dry then California is uneven.
Since morning I watched the sky and since morning it is unchanged, a strange shell impossibly near but otherwise enveloping all.
Sewn into rolling hills and foothills of mountains patched here and there with varied gum and iron bark breeds the spent husks of their kind like so much kindling fallen at odd angles from stumps no more than holes full of splinters, dirt fields plowed fresh between seasonal crops and in all state of sprout to bloom yielding growth unto harvest, green in long rows across hillsides and flat unrowed fields alike, somehow at once all wild and curated, did ‘round a bend harbor an immense field of pumping derricks their behavior deliberate with angle and geometry refined a work of man at first surprising but soon enough offensive in scope for within the shambling remnants of what were once hundreds of producing wells these seemed now so many defeathered hens in the dirt of the yard heads freshly removed but the movements of their bodies habitual to the last. The woman beside me breathed in quickly.
“I guess you weren’t with us across Texas.”
She was not.
Crucifix telephone poles obsolete have fallen into disrepair and now line the old rails like the neck and headstock of gigantic guitars who certainly failed their fictionally proportioned player and in his displeasure drove them body and bridge into the soil their old broken wires as so many severed strings stemming from their hubcap tuning pegs.
Great stands of dark cypress rise up against the mountains a canvas so slate and solid and sprawling it might be a thick brush stroke of deepening blue meeting the pale sky and in spaces a oneness eventual as Adam’s finger to the Creator’s, clouds appearing hurried or possibly sketched without planning and abandoned for care in other details.
Salinas now and a smoke break before these final three hours on the rail. I’ve been riding aboard the Coastal Starlight in the observation car all day, posted up early and kept my seat throughout so I can watch the sun set on California. I am three days without a shower in the same clothes I boarded The Sunset Limited wearing and there is an aggressive shine to me. I have eaten garbage by and large and haven’t had any good sleep.
And then there were other observations considered but unfinished…
… the evening clouds a dilute lilac overtaking the further range in a foamy slow motion avalanche of precipitation…
… a rise of electrical towers… looming sentinels banded together and together banding the world to their aspect… broad shoulders and legs… from a vantage still farther now a strange athletic team assuming positions on a hillside field of play.
And, eventually, my sunset…
… and there were at once two suns and the sky seemed split and almost a twin of itself one half glowing above the other glowing half its level opposite and neither a reflection and this perceived behind a band of Appaloosa clouds with these above the all of everything as fields of cotton incandescent floating in the waters of some luminous celestial sea. The sun sinks and the darkening sky resembles plowed fields inverted and vast their columns rippling out and softening smoothing mimicking frail ribs growing shorter down the body of heaven and soon I am scanning the still waters of evening.
San Jose. Less than an hour now to a bed familiar but temporary no more. Stepping off the train Jack London Square is within sight if obscured as I happened to be wearing a light jacket and the deep chill of Twain’s coldest winter met me and swaddled me and by the Rail I am delivered.
Justin Adock is a comic book artist who now lives in Oakland, CA. He is the illustrator of Into the Pines and the forthcoming Pieces of Eight. He can reached at email@example.com.