Speed Limit 80

Last night, the sky behind our eastbound Focus was brilliantly clad in elegant swaths of pastel pinks and purples. This morning we woke up in a field of birds next to a train track in a city park in central Montana — they’d sprayed for mosquitos just prior to our arrival the night before, and the picnic area and surrounding foliage was sticky with a layer of something most definitely not good for our health. Small-town camping is all yours — with toilets! — for $5 a night.

Tiny white crosses nestle in the scrub off the shoulders on either side of the road, each marking a highway fatality. I am driving, but have to forcibly rip my gaze away from a jumble of seven crosses stacked together in a garish white pyramid: eyes on the road, for we are traveling through a marked killing ground.

Tiny town after tiny town bear similarities so specific that the mere mentions become redundant. There is always a casino bearing the sporadic name of the sporadic settlement and a clean, quiet motel with wifi and an ancient roadside tavern that looks to have first opened a century before we drive by.

I approached the idea of the drive back east through America with great hesitance. Frankly, I had (and still have) zero interest in setting foot on American soil given the state of …well, everything these days — that which we so often (sometimes with reason, other times without) pride ourselves on being a step above as their northern neighbors. I eventually gave in, as driving distance is cut down and L had never been.

Welcome to Montana. Miles and miles and acres and eons of dry crops and brown grass and scorched earth. The drought stretches into Alberta too, but I miss the mountains already. Terribly.

A doe with two fawns observing the cars pass with nonchalance; Twinkies from an incredulous Walmart adventure; hotdogs and cooler-chilled Kokanee, and coconut kisses under cover of darkness and red nylon as the trains whistle by. Is this America? Which America is this? America feels different.