Life in the fast lane: Tommy Don Tumbleweed

TUMBLEWEED in roadside ditch

The roar of a truck on my left brought me out of my drunken reverie, and I tumbled into the ditch.

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HAPPY, Texas — I’d been planning the job for months. I was in no hurry. If there’s one thing a tumbleweed knows about, it’s patience. And wind.

I needed the growth anyway, because out here, the bigger you are, the longer you last.

When the sun peeped over the plain, I knew this would be the day. I could feel the wind’s familiar tug at my roots. I leaned hard to the south until my branch tips brushed the ground.

Yep. This would surely be the day.

I leaned again, harder, and felt a satisfying snap. I was rolling free, free at last!

My stalk caught in the dirt, and I vaulted high, free-spinning alongside the highway, bounding dizzily until the world became a blur. A fence closed in on my right and I veered away, laughing. The roar of a truck on my left brought me out of my drunken reverie, and I tumbled into the ditch.

Panting, I realized this tumbling tumbleweed stuff was no day in the park. I peered over the bank and spotted the man-houses and grain elevators to the south. That’s the place for me, I thought, rolling free and easy among the lights and sights of the city.

The obstacles en route were many — the unhindered paths, few. Still, better to go like this than in some senseless threshing accident.


I leaped, spinning wildly again, buffeted by the whimsy of the wind, figuring a way to get past the fence that separated me from the excitement of the man-lights.

Up ahead, a gaggle of newly freed tumbleweeds gathered against the fence until two of them broke free over the wire and scuttled across the scrub pasture toward town. These guys know what time it is, I thought, swerving to join ranks.

My brethren were stacked one upon the other, and I rushed to the top, then got snagged on the uppermost strand. Those poor lemmings on the bottom had little chance of escape, but a big gust of wind would spring me and the skinny-looking guy next to me in a heartbeat.

“Hang on!” I yelled over the roar of the wind. To the east, I saw the sky brown with dirt.

“I’m not going!” he screamed. “I’ll be ripped in two!”

I shrugged. You can’t help a guy who doesn’t want to be helped.

Tumbleweed on small-town street

Rolling free through the lights and sights of the city.

The wind gusted and I pushed up with all my might. The gale tore me from the fence — or about two-thirds of me, anyway. I guess the guy was right.

But this was no time for reflection. I was lighter and faster now, racing toward a minefield of rusting farm implements that promised to tear me asunder. I navigated like a madman, still gaining speed, only to find myself bearing down upon a stock-still, black and white cow in front of a man-house.

I rolled crazily to avoid the cow before realizing it was a plywood cutout designed to terrorize wayward dogs and tumbleweeds. I let out my breath and continued through town to Main Street, skipping easily over the cobblestones swept by dust and wind, just as a huge metal beast rounded the corner at me. Acting on instinct, I attacked.

If anybody out there’s listening, I’m still stuck beneath the wheels of this GMC Jimmy.

As told to Sonny Bohanan. Originally published in the Amarillo Globe-News circa 1992.

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