The hum of the tires on the pavement is soothing, mile markers going past me like years.
I don't have to drive in to "work" every day, like many in offices, do. Often I fly out and am gone for days, sometimes weeks. But I enjoy the drives in when I make them, often in the dark, before the roads are busy.
I've made most of my vacation drives by myself, though a friend from college and I recently drove across half the country in a couple of days, to visit our families who lived in the same area. I remember when we pulled into the subdivision where one of my relatives had moved, I'd only been there once, and I got lost in all the streets, each bearing the same name but with a different ending. Magnolia Lane, Magnolia Drive, Magnolia Trail (that's not confusing), etc. I had a map printed from Mapquest out but it was ignored in the back seat. My gal friend said "uh. . you want to grab that map" and I was "no. . I'll get it, this looks familiar" as we got further lost. She says again, "say, how about that map behind you" and I responded, "nope, I'm sure this is it". She started laughing and said "OMG. You're a GUY! You don't want to ask for directions."
If I'm alone, sometimes I watch other drivers. On one truck a NRA sticker with an older fellow driving. When I came abreast of him, the driver looked at me, expecting some sort of liberal stare down but I just gave him a smile. When he pulled past me and saw MY stickers he gave me a friendly wave. Speeding past us both, a young girl, driving 20 over the speed limit in the construction zone, as she tossed what appeared to be three days worth of lunch bags and trash out onto the roadway, cups, bags, everything.
People often drive as they think, modestly, slowly, recklessly. Some move in and out of traffic with the brisk efficiency of a surgeon, others, shyly and with hesitation, invite themselves out to dinner with the Reaper. Myself, I just roll along, not faster than anyone, not slower than anyone, not wanting to stand out, simply watching the centerline break underneath of the vehicle.
When I tell people that I sometimes drive to the Rockies to visit family there they look at me like I'm daft. "You can fly there in an hour". Yes, I can. but I like that time to myself, no schedule, no commitments. When I get hungry I stop and eat. When I get tired I find a quiet, clean place to sleep. If I want to stop and look at the world's largest ball of yarn, no one is going to tell me "sorry, that flight has already left the gate." Though I still wonder about some gas station bathrooms. Why do they lock them? Are they afraid someone might break in and clean them?
As we travel through life we often pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that we blow right by it. As adults, we usually fail to stop and just look at what we have right here as we pass by it, things are hidden by the layers of indifference casually tossed on us by others, dreams gathering dust while we toil to somehow make our world conform to what we are told it's expected to be. And everything in a hurry. Maybe it's the specter of mortality, maybe it's just this new generation of entitlement that's trying to nudge common sense out of the way, but people seem to expect things they've never earned.
I'm not sure why I enjoy the slow and hard look at things. Perhaps it's just the process of becoming slowly born that are those years leading up to middle age. Perhaps it's what I do for a paycheck. Maybe it was all the hours hiking up into mountains of the West as I grew up. You really learn to appreciate the slowness, the detail, the stillness of a day in the outdoors. The ascent may be hours or it may be days, but with a compass and a few tools, you simply gather your wits around you and head uphill. What you expect to greet you is up ahead of you, even when you can't see it. It's there in the blue, and it only remains for your body to reach it. Patience, one blister, one tear, at a time.
The wilderness gives you time, for the wild, though changing, is still eternal. That's what long road trips are like for me. I keep the horizon in my window but still look back, savoring the journey. The tumbled landscapes of glacier stone, and great pristine rivers, thin as a strand of pearls as I travel on past. It's time, my time, filled with the immaculate sameness of hours bathed in the sun's warm honey. Anything that really requires detailed thought, the engine setting, a scan for traffic, occurs in brief, unhurried intervals. The miles roll by with the thoughts, miles of tears, of laughter I've not known since youth, of love, of mechanical, rhythmic memories of the past that I carried with me as I started this journey.
Those memories are not always happy ones, which is part of the trip you will make. As the miles flow past, you realize that when you are young, no one really tells you the truth about love, about life. About coming into your heart and your strength and what it means when you realize what you have beneath you.
When my friend and I took that trip, after heartbreak for both of us, we finally talked about many things we never had. Sure, we'd shared many a cup of coffee and a beer discussing past dates from hell over the years (what do you mean you have guns? Eeekk!), kids, parents, coworkers, and dog hair. We'd talked about old loves, about the hopes for a new one. Like old friends, we hadn't really talked about those things that seemed obvious.
Talking matter of factly about such things seemed banal, like proving a right angle or finding the equal distance between two lives but it felt good for us to share our joys and our griefs on that drive. The two-lane highway rose slowly out of the Plains as I tried to navigate through words that carried with them both joy and pain, holding me back like the weight of a dead end. So we talked, not in a great gush of words, but as friends do, in small bits of ourselves spread out on the table like show and tell of things that troubled us, those hurts that built up over years of living. The miles and hours flew past, fields clutching onto the skeletons of flowers that long ago died, of bare, windswept trees, and clusters of burrs that stick to everything with a tiny pinprick of pain. Things were sticking to us both.
All that was left was the words; and they flowed, like the laughter and the tears, until I opened the window to let the wind dry my face. Wind that would carry those old hurts to where they would simply bounce off the landscape like a piece of discarded trash, delicate, crumpled tissue best left to be disintegrated by time. Better left behind as the sun began to relax on what would be a renewed journey; the road pulling away from discarded thought, the highway lines breaking up like Morse Code as we moved forward. Moved away from that painful past, those roads best not traveled, till it was just a speck in the rearview mirror.
My friend has found her happiness, and I've found mine, nothing left but the memories that I'm making now, moving on into new skies, open roads. Time ticks past as the diorama of life unfolds in the window up ahead, the rush of the world, fast food, fast life, suspended for a few hours. The truck still moves on, this time to find a place to rest for the night and I do, cleansing myself of blood and bone and the grime of the day. The hotel room has all the ambiance of a dental lab and I can't help but wish I was instead at hunting camp, sleeping under a fluttering tent, canvas murmuring to the whispers of the rain.
As I lay there, I think of Heraclitus, of whose writings are only left fragmentary remains, who said it better than I, expressing the nature of reality as a flux in words, the way I'd express them in motion today.
The rule that makes
its subject weary
is a sentence
of hard labor.
For this reason
change gives rest.
Sometimes it's time for a change of landscape, of thinking, a journey forward. No agenda but to see the day transfolded before you up ahead. You need those moments alone, those miles of the open road, miles of the open sky.
Those times of solitude, for souls like us, are simple moments of inwardness. In our simple code of life, quiet independence stands guard over courage heightened by change. This is our own compass north, that directs our paths, the self in isolation, resolve, honor, emotion, thought and liberty held in like breath until they are amplified within us, becoming direction in life's unhurried journey.
Mark Twain said in Huckleberry Finn "We had the sky up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them and discuss about whether they was made or only just happened". But I know they were made. Made to serve as tiny points of light to guide a distant traveler back home.