By Jennifer Welch
When I awoke that morning, I had an unsettled feeling. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I had been unsure as to how things would turn out, or if they would even turn out at all. And that’s when I decided, at the end of my 48-hour shift on the south end of the county, to hop in my truck and make way for Phoenix, Arizona. Alone. I was headed somewhere I had never been, to meet someone I had never met, to pick up two burros somewhere in the middle of wild and wilder. At the time it seemed like a decent decision. In hindsight, it was the only one.
I grabbed some halters and lead ropes, a bale of hay, and some snacks and left around nine in the morning. My plan was to drive to Phoenix in one day, sleep in the truck overnight, load the burros in the morning, and head out first thing for another long day of driving towards home. If my plan worked, then I would barely stay in front of the spring storm heading up from the southwest. If it worked, then I would complete the trip just before the state of Colorado shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If it worked, I would effectively avoid two of my children who were at home, sick. I would much rather go to Arizona to get two burros than to go home and get whatever was making them vomit uncontrollably. If my plan didn’t work, then I would hit the storm just north of Phoenix and the trip would be more dangerous and take much longer than planned—putting me somewhere in the middle of a bad idea and a horrible one.
My plan didn’t work. I hit the storm halfway down the old AZ Pony Express Trail and followed it all the way into Phoenix. By the time I arrived at the burros, I had decided to just load and go. That was at 10 p.m. I shared the barely-visible road with a dozen semi-trucks heading north towards Flagstaff, then east towards Albuquerque. I stopped somewhere short of the AZ-NM line once we were clear of the storm so I could take a short nap at a rest stop. That was around 4 a.m. When I awoke in the parking area of the Flying J Travel Center, the sun was beginning to rise and I was finally able to see my boys in good light. Two burros, comfortable enough to munch on some hay, somewhere in the middle of the only home they’ve ever known and the home they will eventually learn to call their own.
The road would eventually clear of snow part way into New Mexico, the interstate littered with over half a dozen flipped-over tractor-trailers. We floated along without incident, like maybe it was meant to be after all. Get your kicks on Route 66, they say. We arrived back in Colorado to find that our county had its first confirmed positive case of COVID-19 in the books—placing us somewhere in the middle of the life we once knew and life as we know it today. When I walked in through the doorway of my home, I squeezed my husband tight and my kids tighter. I still hesitate to let go to this very day.
It’s hard to know where we will end up when this is all over. Some of us are on one side or the other, unflinching in our stance on the current situation. But most of us are somewhere in the middle, trying to choose what works for us and for those around us. Part selfishness. Part sacrifice. I find myself in the same boat with these wild burros. They have been gracious to the dogs but cautious of the wind, careful with the kids but weary of open spaces. Unpredictable to a fault, which is nowhere near their fault.
It’s easy to want things to be different, to be effortless. But they simply are not. We have to take the time to meet them where they exist. Between scared and courageous. Independent and constrained. Authentic and counterfeit. We have to meet them somewhere in the middle in order to be able to move forward, bit by bit. And during this time, we should do the same with one another. Because we both deserve it and owe it to our fellow beings.
Jen Welch lives and writes in the Upper Arkansas River Valley and is currently somewhere in the middle of where she was and where she ought to be.