Glade Creek, WV I

The first rain after a long dry spell releases oil trapped in asphalt. It pools and oozes, running across the road like a liquid rainbow. It is a psychedelic reminder of poverty. Poor people tend to drive older cars and older cars tend to have leaky gaskets. Replacing gaskets is expensive, too—less than a new car, but massively more than adding a quart of extra oil now and again. This quart of extra oil drips, gradually, from the hot interior of the engine onto the center of the road. It is particularly concentrated in front of stoplights and, more particularly, in front of West Virginia and Louisiana stoplights. Watch for this phenomenon the next time it rains; perhaps you can use the colorful perspiration as a barometer of your own state's affluence.

But this is a sparsely-traveled dirt road and the oil trick fails. Instead of refractive runoff, this road is covered with chocolate-milk colored puddles, their surfaces flat and reflective. It is no longer raining, but your ears would swear otherwise. Millions of trees, boughs sagging with water, simultaneously drip dry, acoustically mimicking a downpour. Two layers of clouds drift overhead, one low, the other lower. Their fluffy hulls scrape and tear apart on the dark hills of the New River Gorge. The sun is setting elsewhere, but this is only indicated by the hue of the clouds which appear dark amber, like an overripe peach. Everything under the forested canopy is peachgreenbrowngray and the soggy air smells like wet leaves. A 40-something mom with a small bikini top and a large muffin-top walks down a dirt road after her wet cocker spaniel and before her two sulking, smoking, teenage daughters. Without provocation, the spaniel explodes into a staccato series of yaps, causing the mom to explode into a breathless tirade of profanity that concludes with: "I'm gettin' the switch!" She used the same threat against her teenage son less than an hour earlier after he refused to help her gather firewood. The parade fades noisily into the dark forest and, eventually, the sound of fake-rain returns. Fireflies appear, glowstick-green pulses on the periphery of vision. They are ephemeral, hallucinatory, oddly similar to the visual distortion caused by quickly standing after hours of sitting still.