During the year of focusing on writing a book, recently, I had a hiatus from wandering (ok, except for Egypt in December…). It helped me realize just how much I love being at home. I really do. It’s seductive to have your things in a semblance of order and routines well in hand. There’s something to be said for sticking around and showing up for all the stuff of daily life. You get to be with friends, of course, including the four-footed sorts. There’s time to attend to various stacks of neglected detail. I even got to chip away at that accumulated pile of good intentions.
At a certain point, however, when the intensity of the project died down and the demands on my time took a turn, I was reminded of the road…and it has been calling to me ever since.
I hear you, my Wanderlust, loud and clear. The urge to go was uncaged during a short-haul to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in August. The road beckoned and it seems I have heeded the call. If Thoreau said (and he did), “Who hears the rippling of rivers will not utterly despair of anything,” then I say, much can likewise accrue to those drawn to follow the ribbon of roadway that lies ahead.
If you pay attention, even the Great Plains are instructive, if only in their sheer immensity. As I plied my way from Michigan’s 600-foot elevation to my Mile High City of Denver (“mine” because it is the city of my birth, and thus holds my heart, always), I watched out the window. What others claim as monotonous is, instead, momentous: colors and skies and clouds and crops of such brilliantly subtle hues. Waterways threading the landscape completely differently from the relatively straight lines of road. Roads and rivers cross on the perpendicular, but sometimes, the same river winds back and forth, so that it crosses the road repeatedly: the Grand River in Michigan is like that, as is the North Platte in Wyoming. Then there is that one big crossing, vast and wonderful in its legacy: that midcontinental divider, the Mississippi River.
When the drive begins to feel long, as it certainly can when thousands of miles are involved, I have made it my habit to re-frame my perception of passage. I imagine the struggles of the prairie schooners, with their fragile wooden wheels and truly slow pace. Each small stream demanded so much more effort than we are accustomed to nowadays, with our bridges and smooth highways. And I ponder the eons, during which the natural world evolved the prairie grass with its roots tens of feet deep, resilient, nourishing the still-roaming wildlife. When storms roll unimpeded across our broad midsection of land, I am thankful for the goodness of their wonder, their powerful reminders that human development does, after all, have limits. It gives me hope.
There it was—the open road: Michigan, Illinois Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Montana, eastern Idaho, Wyoming, with the lusciousness of the return trip home that still lies ahead as I write this at a friend’s dining table, as the western sun dances through the window. Three thousand-some-odd miles of passage in all. The road will soon carry me home again.
Home! Road trip! Each good—very good—in its way.