A romantic image of tumbleweeds suggests a backdrop of lazily drifting objects disappearing into a peaceful prairie sunset to the cadence of the guitar supported harmony of The Sons of the Pioneers. The country western song suggests no hint of the amount of speed these lightweight invaders can generate when driven by windstorms, how volatile they become when the dry skeletons of this intrusive Russian thistle catch fire or how disconcerting it is to motorists when tumbleweeds compete with them for space on a highway. There will be no songs written about my tumbleweed encounter during a recent drive on Rabbit Springs Road.


It was late afternoon and our usual mild winds at sunset were interspersed with swirls of high gusts. Across the open desert to my right, I caught the glimpse of a brown ball of tightly tangled matter every bit as large as my car. It was moving at breakneck speed, bouncing, as tumbleweed do, in the manner of a runner taking giant strides to improve his racing performance. Its size and speed were menacing, and it appeared to be on a mission to race cross the road ahead of me.


I pressed on the brake to allow the tumbleweed to pass. Regrettably I couldn't slow down fast enough and a sudden change in wind direction brought it directly toward my car. There was no opportunity to swerve out of its path. And that's how my Subaru and the tumbleweed came to share the same space at the same time.


Impact was impressive. It disintegrated into a splatter of dried spines and thorns leaving kaleidoscope patterns in gray-brown color across my entire windshield. This was accompanied by the smell of burning dry kindling mixed with the odor of dust that seeped into the car. I quickly maneuvered my vehicle to the shoulder and put it into reverse in a vain attempt to dislodge my captured prey.


The bulk of the tumbleweed had been swept under the car where it was lodged between the underbelly and the road. Some pieces of the monster stuck out on both sides under the doors and the rest bulged out in front of the car. My car, parked along the side of the road, looked like a giant red bird perched upon the nest it had outgrown.


Since I couldn't remove the car from the tumbleweed, I set to the task of removing the tumbleweed from the car. The effort was painfully slow. The dried weed broke into smaller pieces which I pushed away so I could get down on all fours. I forgot about the Isotoner gloves I keep in the glove compartment. They would have protected by hands from the small thorns that painfully stuck into my fingers and palms. But I am thankful I remembered that I carried a walking cane.


The cane was the perfect extraction implement. Encouraged with my progress, I laid down on my belly to extend by reach to almost halfway under the car. The handle served as grabbing tool, and if my arms had been longer or my body slimmer, I might have been successful in removing all of the weed. After 30 minutes of semi-productive labor, I realized I was not going to be able to do this on my own.


Luckily there was cell phone reception in this part of the desert and help soon arrived. As I drove away with the Good Samaritan following (to be sure my car was not setting off sparks) I noticed a California Highway Patrol car on the road. I suspect one of the passing motorists called him.


I wonder what someone would have said to report my situation. Perhaps it was, "Officer, someone is stuck under their car on Rabbit Springs Road." Or perhaps, "Someone is retrieving road kill from under his car. It's big." It might have been, "A woman needs help changing a tire. She is easy to spot. You will find her lying on a bundle of tumbleweeds." Or maybe, "I think a motorist may have hit someone and the body appears to still be under the car."


Although my encounter with the tumbleweed won't be set to music, perhaps it's worth a chuckle.