Skip to main content

Jessica Auvil, 2023 2nd Place Creative Nonfiction

Submissions for the Creative Non-Fiction category are open to one work of creative nonfiction completed for coursework in the last calendar year. Submissions should not exceed 20 pages. Jessica Auvil wrote the 2nd place submission in the Creative Nonfiction Category for the 2023 President’s Writing Awards.

About Jessica

Jess is undergraduate student at Boise State University, pursuing Literature and a Technical Communications Certificate. In her free time she enjoys writing, reading, and falling down niche researching rabbit holes. She is the youngest of her siblings and is the first to attend college.

Winning Manuscript – Home (adj.)

20 March 2021, 4:05 AM MST

The population of Boise, Idaho surpasses Salt Lake City, Utah by a good thirty thousand people. Of course, it doesn’t begin to touch the numbers boasted by Los Angeles or New York City – even the demographics Tampa or Tulsa being far-away fantasies – but for the region it’s something.

This makes perfect sense when you consider the presence of the university nestled at the foothills; the campus plucking this city out of its otherwise humble hands-on natured neighbors, dressing it up to be a real college town with the mentality to match. True, impermanence is the name of the game. Every asked about academic pursuit comes with the underlying timetable question; Four years? Two years? Eight?

Get in, get out, and get going to what you’re really going to do.

No one stops to think how long four years is. To be cemented in place for 48 months. To be counting down the days – 1,460 – or hours – 35,040 – until the ‘real’ world opens back up to you. Alongside hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt there is an unspoken cost of 2,102,400 minutes and I can’t stand to spend one more in these city limits.

6:12 AM PST

Where I’m from, the sun rises around seven AM this time of year. It’s something your side mirrors or shiny hood won’t let you miss driving east or west. I can’t remember much of the sights around the state lines, but I do have the airbag warning on the inside of my sun visor burned in my brain.

The sound of the country is wind – loud and demanding – threatening to overtake you before any 18-wheeler or 4-door Sedan could try. In the three hours I’ve been driving I have been passed by countless number of vehicles – rightfully so, with as slow as I’ve been taking these turns – but I’ve also surpassed my own fear-born, unfamiliarity-based inability to use cruise control.

Going a swift 60 mph – in an admittedly 70-80 mph lane – might not be the best place to learn the ins-and-outs of the vehicle I’m stuck in since if I crash, I’m shit out of luck. My car is an old one, only technically qualified for road readiness by a mechanic days before this trip, but we don’t always get to choose our classrooms.


The first city I stop in reminds so much of where I started that I am tempted to keep driving. Only the fumes in my gas tank stay my foot on the pedals. The more I look around the more similarities I spot. I almost expect to see my friend in the driver’s seat of certain car models despite the distance and time-zone differences.

Of course, the illusion is somewhat shattered by my fourth consecutive circle around the same intersection in hopes that maybe this time I’ll find the entrance to the gas station parking lot. I guess there are some good things about memorizing the maps for miles around certain places. I get lost a whole lot less.

There is something also to be said about ‘journeys’ and ‘destinations’, the double-doors of the air-conditioned convenience store seem so close yet so far from my driver’s seat in the left-hand lane across the street. Finally – finally! – the stars align. I’m in the right lane at the right time; I pull into a pump with only a few fumes to spare. A quick trip into the Shell station for a pack of fruit snacks and a coffee refill before I’m on the road again, eager to make up the (felt) distance lost in the face of such familiarities.

43° 7′ 41.5558″N, – 121° 2′ 58.44638″E

She didn’t look up when I walked in, barely deigning to lift her eyes to meet mine as I stopped in front of her counter. Despite her seat leveling her eyeline with my hand-stuffed pockets I felt loomed over. Questioned and found wanting, wanting of what I couldn’t be sure. We sported similarly intentioned hairstyles – up and out of the way – which had fallen and frizzed over the course of the day. I could chalk mine up to frictive vinyl headrests and highway winds that tug at intentions with a vendetta. But, in this timeless yet temporary place, where even the sun had to ask permission to filter through soil-stained windows, there wasn’t a breeze in sight.

I hadn’t said a word, and yet, I had given myself away as a stranger to these spaces, an intruder. Was it the way I drank in the stuffed, shelved aisles paved with seemingly sticky tiles, like a tourist walking around New York with their eyes ever straying to the skyscrapers and billboards? Could it be the way I was standing? Subconsciously confining my feet to a single square tile, tucked into myself to fit her field of vision.

I had been standing still too long and was easily nudged aside by an actual paying patron. This had her setting aside her crossword. The customer – a road rough man with the eating habits to match it seemed – threw down his spoils before her. Sugar-filled confections being rung up alongside sugar-free colas. Even he kept his head low in response to her gaze, humbled.

She maintained her seated position, only slightly straightening her spine to address the height difference. He collected his bag with a mumbled thank you, ma’am and made for the door. She turned her sights on me, a small smile taking over her face. It came across as both teasing and tender, scornful and soothing. Here I was, clearly wasting her time, but I can’t imagine she gets many out-of-the-ordinary visits this far off the beaten path.

This makes me wonder how she would fair where I’m from, more specifically how I’d feel about it. Would I have the same sure set to my shoulders on friendlier soil? Would she sense the same aura of established-ness from me? Of being settled? Of belonging? Could she?

89.5 FM . . . 93.3 FM– 93.1 FM . . . 104.7 FM . . .

Taking by-ways and offshoots. Going for miles and miles, almost entire hours without seeing another person. With only the sight and scenery of this country to keep me company, ideas of ‘beginning and ‘endings’ evade me. Every time I find a radio station within distance that hints at civilization, I hear a crackle then a cut off. The sound of nature is wind, bouncing and barreling past my ears as I leave 80 mph in the dust.

CO HWY 410

The tarmac was desiccated, too far from for any hub of civilization to put money into repairs and too (relatively) close to the sun to stand a chance otherwise. Left to rot and rupture in the elements, the fissures had been left untreated long enough that I could follow them just as easily as my map.

So much so that I chanced pulling over, sinking into a shallow gravel shoulder, to check for flats. My priorly-parked bones echoed the cracks of the pavement as I hurriedly surveyed the car; with my headphones still in place I felt like a one-man crew pit for a rather unimpressive, thus understandably unpopular, motor race.

The flatness allowed the forest to loom ahead in plain view seemingly hours before it was upon me. The rain-catching-branches and ray-blocking-foliage promised the shelter of a storm from this dusty landscape.

CO HWY 676

In between stretches of sparse but deeply seeded cedars the sharp change to flat grass prompts me to turn off cruise control, hands on ten and two. The tree line on either side of me, until now providing a fun one-on-one I-spy attempt as it blankets my car from the midday sun and the odd state trooper, has been ripped away leaving me uncomfortably exposed. If this is what people associate with mornings, I now have much more sympathy for them. Distant trunks meld into one another where only minutes and miles before I was able to conceptually construct cabins between them; some parts so far from my view that they faded behind the gray-blue horizon, mimicking the assumed shoreline of my destination.

The stinging removal of my coniferous companions was soothed by the presentation of parallel streams on either side of the road. Greens and blue took on a new hue as they lined up next to thorny red somethings dotting the riverbed and shined atop smooth stones. This small sip of water did wonders for the world around us; the grass brushing against the pavement looks greener – and present – whereas the marsh beyond was so soaked it mirrored the sky, the road felt smoother, even the air which had become heavy with sap and syrup was able to inhale cleanly into my lungs.

U.S. ROUTE 199
Twisting and turning, high elevation mountains. With each minute passed my vehicle is at a new altitude, aimed in a different angle, tilted and tossed as the terrain sees fit. I spot a tucked-away alcove, I only glimpse it for a second, but it consumes my thoughts for the remaining rocky drive.

Marshes. Plains. Redwoods. Hills. Ocean. The sound of nature is wind, bouncing and barreling past my ears once I break past the imposed slowed speed. With as fast as I’m going, I almost missed the sounds of the sea.


A biblical downpour on the way back that makes staying on the road – much less neck-craning for possible clearings – a Trial. Climbing; up, up, up (or is it down?). A hostile trek with unbalanced veers, blind spots, and laughably too-large speed limits. Going up the first time was difficult, going back should surely be simple? After all, these roads I’ve traveled – these turns I’ve taken – less than a week ago. Hubris! With all the plug-pulled vacationers and a practical tsunami the descent (ascent?) is, in one word, Hell.

On the flipside of 676, bushes and brambles block any view of the side-streams. I miss 410 entirely, ensuring a smoothly paved return trip. The sun comes out as I blow through the city holding my first stop – and state welcome sign – itching to arrive where I know the traffic patterns like the back of my hand, or worse, the front of my visor.

In the end, the cinder-brick aspects of a packed schedule-block acts as both a prison cell and a safe place. Immovable in most cases, a constant confining reminder of where and what you are. But the repetitive routines are the slabs separating day-to-day life from the exhaustion of exploration, of evolution. It’s a place where, due to the circumstances, we are presented with the same scenarios so many times that all changing variables – rain or shine, up or down, day or night – have been accounted for in the stonework. Where even the dreaded questions we are asked can be counted on like the constellations we’re quizzed on. Fresh sights have an unforeseen price; with the shininess of the new comes the uncertainty of the now.

I breeze past the once-frightening tight-turns surrounding Boise without so much as a second thought, eager as can be to get home. Home. Maybe not something to have forever, but something to return to for right now.