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.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.