You know that empty, strange, solitary feeling you get when you hear that someone you used to know died months ago? On Friday, I learned via Facebook that something awful had happened back in January, something that’s put me in an unsettled mood. I guess it’s mourning. I don’t know what else to call it.
Right after the new year, vandals destroyed something of mine, at least it felt like mine. It really belonged to everyone who’d ever seen it, a bit of Americana along U.S. Highway 50, which is a barren stretch nicknamed “the loneliest road in America.” I wrote about having seen it during my 2008 transcontinental run, how at first I thought it was a hallucination but then fell into a sense of wonder over its quirky beauty, the thousands of stories behind its strange presence just outside Middlegate, Nevada:
I saw a tree with something dangling from it — lots of somethings. It looked like one of the “sausage trees” I’d seen in Africa, huge kigelias hung with tubelike fruit. But when I was close enough, I could see that this was completely different: an old cottonwood festooned with thousands of shoes. …
These “shoe trees” bloom on various roadsides of America. Some individual, in a fit of whimsy or irritation or rebellion, tosses a pair of shoes into a tree until the laces catch over a branch. Others follow suit, and soon enough, you have a tree laden with footwear. In keeping with tradition, Roger attempted to pitch a pair of my worn-out shoes into the tree and failed, the bright blue Pearl Izumis falling through the branches and into a massive pile at the base. Later, though, I was thrilled to hear that someone … had come by … and recognized my road-worn shoes by their color — especially easy to spot with the toe box cut out — retrieved them from the pile, and pitched them high into the tree, where I expect they still hang. (RUNNING ON EMPTY, pp. 83-84)
Not any more. Some damn fool chopped that decades-old tree down, turning what was once a delightful curiosity into a trash heap. The loneliest road is now a helluva lot lonelier.