Ancient History

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Leaving the clown

This is the first post I’ve written in nearly 10 years of blogging that has a prerequisite before reading. To fully understand this post, we must travel back, back, back through the mists of time, riding a swirling vortex of flashing lights in our tricked-out phone booth. The post is called Startle and it’s 524 short words that will set place, time, context.


I was right. I hadn’t been to Montrose since my Grandma Mary’s funeral eight and a half years ago.

When my mom had her accident, my sister jetted out to help—but not without a few glitches along the way. Her flight into Grand Junction was cancelled. Montrose was the closest she could get if she didn’t want to wait two days. It was decided I’d drive my parents’ Buick to Montrose to pick her up from their tiny airport.

On the way, I passed The Tree and thought about pulling over in the small dirt lot to check it out. But my sister was in the sky probably well over the San Juan mountains and I wanted to be there when she landed. I was going to suggest we stop on the way back to Grand Junction to pay homage and see the decorations up close. After lunching and leaving Montrose, we drove through green Olathe and sadsack Delta, where the desert truly begins. I asked about seeing The Tree and she agreed. Around the biggest, baddest corner of death and doom, highway engineers thoughtfully built a turn lane to what is, essentially, just a single tree. I wonder how they explained the need to the big bosses over in Denver.

“Where does this turn lane go?” barked a man hovering over a map of the proposed Highway 50 expansion.

“To a tree.”

“A tree?! Explain the need!”

“It’s a special tree. People decorate it.”

“That’s the kind of thing Colorado likes! APPROVED!”

I used the most thoughtful turn lane in US Highway system history and parked in the small dirt lot.

My sister said we needed to decorate the tree with something. Of course we did. But what? We looked around the Buick. There was a small box of Kleenex, a shiny wrapper from the granola bar I stole from the console on the drive to Montrose, an air freshener clipped to the passenger sun visor, and a plastic clown head on a pick. Boom.

We stepped out. Both of us wore the wrong shoes for bounding our way through sharp scrubby weeds to get to a tree. I half-joked about rattlesnakes. We snapped photos of decorations, circling it. My sister, who had the clown head, got the honor of choosing a branch and planting it. She chose wisely.

Gazing at a vast horizon...

Gazing at a vast horizon…

The clown faces southwest, looking out onto desert expanse. Not far beyond lurks Unaweep and Escalante Canyons and the Uncompaghre Plateau. Because he is a local clown head, he knows how to say these words.

The clown's view

The clown’s view

A lot of the decorations people put up near Christmas were gone, blown away or shattered. There were still a few hanging trinkets and more littering the ground. Someone had decorated The Tree for either Memorial Day or for Independence Day. A US flag banner spiraled around near the top and larger flag stood guard nearby.



We left the clown in decent company of a snowman and glittery balls, but not much else.


BFF for a clown

We said our goodbyes and drove to Grand Junction and our waiting parents. When we told them about stopping at The Tree, my sister said we left something there from their car. Guess.

My mom thought about it. “I bet you left that clown head.” We laughed. She said she didn’t know why she hung onto it for so long.

I don’t know when or if I’ll drive that highway again. If I do, I will make sure to stop and visit the clown. Long live his spot on the branch of an anomaly.

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