Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Lonely Kitchen Light

January 31, 2013
I've been inspired to illustrate a road trip memory. In the late 1950s we were taking our annual family road trip to the Bell family farm in Iowa. In the beginning we plowed straight across Route 66 all the way to eastern Oklahoma, then cut north, but as the years went by, my father discovered a more scenic route through Durango and Pagosa Springs, rather than the crowded and increasingly dangerous Route 66 (a few summers prior we had ended up in the ditch by avoiding a jack-knifing truck, only through the expert defensive driving maneuvers of my dad). We liked the Colorado cutoff route because we would leave Kingman in the summer heat and by nightfall we would be spending our first night of the trip in the cool pines (as opposed to say Amarillo, or Elk City Oklahoma).

My father had a very specific driving regimen. We left the house before sunrise, then drove for an hour or so before breakfast, which was invariably The Copper Cart in Seligman, on our first day out. He also liked tradition—bacon and eggs, over easy and tomato juice—which he has passed on to me and I, in turn, have passed it on to my kids.

The highlight of the day, besides the amazing scenery and Navajos in wagons, was the cool pines of the evening. But even more thrilling was the ascent over Wolf Creek Pass. Sometimes we got to Pagosa Springs too late and spent the night there, but If we were making good time we ascended the switchbacks in late afternoon light, marveling at the waterfalls and wildlife (we saw elk and deer of all kinds) and landed at Del Norte (my father did not like to drive at night). On this particular trip we stayed at a motel in Del Norte, got up early for day two and hit the road by five. As we motored out across the high country in the pre-dawn light I spied a lonely ranch house off to our right, down a dirt road, with a lone light on in the main house. It appeared to be the kitchen. I wondered what the people in that house were talking about on this early morning. I pictured a cowboy drinking coffee and talking to his wife, before starting the day. It was lonely looking, but also somewhat hopeful. That simple scene has stuck with me for all these years.

Yesterday, when I went home for lunch I took my first crack at it:

 This is a little too dark and not quite right. Went home last night and did a study of big skies and lonely lights:

Daily Whipout #115, "Lone Light In Abandoned Adobe"

This morning I got up and took another approach:

Daily Whipout #116, "Lone Kitchen Light #2"

Not exactly right either, but the ranch buildings are getting better. It's interesting to me that this almost exact scene shows up in Jack Kerouac's "On The Road." Neil Cassady and Jack are cruising across Colorado when they decide to visit a friend's ranch. "Beyond we saw the lonely lights of Ed Uhl's ranch house. Around these lonely lights stretched hundreds and hundreds of miles of plains with nothing on them but twenty or so ranches like this. The kind of utter darkness that falls on a prairie like that is inconceivable to an easterner. There were no stars, no moon, no light whatsoever except the light of Mrs. Uh's kitchen."

Later, as they leave, Jack says, "I turned to watch the kitchen light recede in the sea of night."

"Now we're going to get our kicks!"
—Neil Cassaday, in "On The Road"