The Feel of the Road

January 6, 2009

I read recently that our days of carefree air travel might be coming to a close – prices skyrocketing, flight availability restricted, flying becoming something we do only when really necessary. In my world, this notion could have come as a major shock.

But this morning I arrived home from a 3000 mile road trip – the fourth such trip I’ve taken in a little more than a year. (You can read about this most recent one at  Before that, I’d done things like drive from Michigan to New England to see my parents. But nothing quite like this: getting in the car and driving for days to get from one spot to another.

Driving like this is changing me. My love of this country – of its beauty, its people, its mystery and folly – is on a sharp increase. My sense of potency and accomplishment is off the charts. And, most importantly, my feeling of independence is being nurtured beyond what I’m now realizing was a stunted state of growth.

It has to do with the freedom of car travel – the ability to turn right or left, to pick a route, change it, or just stop driving for awhile, all in response to the feeling of the moment. And it has to do with not being where anyone would necessarily be looking for me. In this world where we are videotaped, monitored, and tracked in so many ways, it’s a powerful thing to be just where you are, with no one particularly looking on.

So, I do send a prayer for the airlines industry – air travel has its place. And fuel prices do get the attention of any traveler. But right along side it I send a prayer of gratitude for the open road. May it always be there, and may we always be smart enough to answer its alluring call.


Taking In Beauty (or not)

December 15, 2008

geological-loop“You’ll tell me if you have the urge to stop someplace, right?  I can count on that?”  Karen’s question came as we passed yet another gorgeous scenic overlook.  

“Yeah, sure.”  I replied.  And I meant it – she surely didn’t have to second guess me, complicating her own decisions about when to grab the moment by trying to figure out my timing and preferences. 

But it’s a tricky thing, this decision about when to take the scenic tour.  When is it enough to just soak it all up as you drive on by?  When is that a folly of its own making, a wasted moment? When is stopping a good decision and when is it a mis-step, time that would have been better spent elsewhere?

The truth is, you just can’t know in advance.  That is one of the beauties of travel.  You can look at a map, plan your route.  But there are so many factors that can come to play – weather, construction, mechanical needs, new inspirations.  Truly, once the wheels begin to spin, it’s all an adventure from there. 

“A geological loop.  Shall we take it?”  This time it was me driving, my turn to second guess.  Surprised by her agreement, I almost missed the turn but recovered at the last minute, careening around the corner.  The views were immediately rewarding. (Except, who really knew – maybe the views were just as good on the main road?  The second guessing is endless!) 

But then came the tension.  It said it was a loop, but even after a few miles we definitely weren’t heading in the direction that would take us back to the main route.  Do we keep driving?  Karen expresses some trepidation, but it’s me behind the wheel, me that’s got to make the final timing decision.  Except, note here, I’m already forgetting:  the rules are she can say “turn around” at any time – it’s really not all resting on me.  But that’s sure the way it feels.

I start driving faster, and getting distracted from the scenery itself wondering if the road will turn, and how long until its over – missing all the beauty that’s right there in front of me.  Silly silly silly.

Luckily for me, two things intervened:  first, the scenery got more and more majestic, so I just HAD to notice it.  And second, we hit a point where the road was closed:  the decision was made. 

I drove out of there too fast – acting like I’d done something wrong going so far in, and trying to make up for it on the way out.  Human beings, we are such a ridiculous race sometimes.  So afraid of making mistakes, we create them out of the very stuff of our successes. 

But that’s where writing comes in, weaving success out of the fibers of our folly.

Tension between Cool and Ideal

May 3, 2008

I just found myself in a fairly bad mood through a 4-day road trip. Now, I love road trips, so that’s pretty unusual. What’s more, it was a road trip through some astonishingly gorgeous territory (in Nebraska, Wyoming and Utah) that I have never seen before. What’s not to like?

Here’s what: time constraints meant there was no time to stop and enjoy any of the many fabulous things we passed. Sandhills? Flaming Gorge? Drive on through! Arches National Monument, Valley of the Gods, Monument Valley? Drive on through! Glen Canyon? Don’t stop now!

There were 2 days of driving that were pretty well filled – filled! – with stunning scenery, exciting wildlife sightings, tempting national and state parks, enticing byways. And the most advantage I could take of them was to say, yep, that’s gorgeous, gotta come back some day. It was undoubtedly a cool drive, but far from ideal.

Now, I let that (plus a few other factors like tiredness) put me in a bad mood – not an unremitting bad mood, but definitely recurring. Was that smart? I think we all know the answer to that question.

In my quest to create a good life for myself, there are many different kinds of learnings and enjoyments. One kind is to be able to follow up on things that take my fancy – for example, to spend a day hiking at Arches. Another kind is simply to notice and appreciate what’s around me for what it is, in the time I have available.

In this case, I let the tension between cool and ideal turn into internal conflict and resentment. The deadline was my own, the decision was my own, and still I resented it.

Fortunately, I can still salvage this if I can manage to shift my attitude to one of enjoying what I got and knowing that, if I really desire to do so, I can make it possible for myself to spend time in those places.

And knowing also that if I resent not spending time there and don’t do what’s necessary to go back to those places, that I am therefore choosing my own bad mood. Blah.

The Tension between Cool and Ideal, Part 2

May 3, 2008

I left Arizona with regret. The palo verde and the mesquite were blooming, the cactus were just beginning to open, the globe mallow was just past its peak. The temperature was nearly perfect. It has been an exceptional spring for wildflowers, and many were yet to come.

But in Michigan, the buds were just beginning to peek out. Crocus had begun blooming, as well as daffodils and forsythia, but not much else. For all I knew, it was likely to snow every day.

As it turned out, the week I was in Michigan was the week (almost) everything bloomed. Trees went from bare to leafy, buds opened, grass needed to be mowed. Who knew? Everything happened so quickly! It was like having a St. Louis leisurely spring condensed into one week.

I left Michigan with regret. But back in Arizona, the smaller cactus (prickly pear, e.g.) are now approaching full bloom, the saguaros are just starting to open, the palo verde are still flowery, and the weather is still pleasantly mild.

It’s just so hard to know where the best place to be is! Both have a high coolness quotient; but which is ideal?

How do we know when to say, “Yes, this is exactly what I wanted!” and when to say, “No, I want something even better”? How do we know when we are settling for something less than what we truly desire in our lives? How do we know, really know, that we are demanding the best of ourselves and our lives, as opposed to thinking this is the best we’re likely to get so better say yes to it?

How do you know when to say cool is ok, and when to push on to ideal?

And how do you know when the regret you feel over a decision is an indicator you should have chosen differently, and when it is just a trick you are playing on yourself to keep blame alive?

How do you know when you are happy, truly, deeply happy? Can you just choose to be happy?

Michigan in the Springtime

March 27, 2008
Michigan in March

Michigan in March

Michigan in the springtime – a little cooler than St. Louis or Phoenix!  And the precipitation comes frozen instead of fluid.  Still – that highly slippery combination of wet snow with the ice underneath speaks of spring.  Those who live here are already feeling spring – but to me, coming from Phoenix, it feels like a leap backward into winter, and winter of a kind I just don’t see at home.

I love my Arizona home, and as I was driving away from it earlier this month, I had a strong feeling of, “Why would I EVER live anywhere else?”  At the same time, the basic thrill of seeing something new or uncommon (to me) is undeniable.  So many ways to enjoy life!  How do we ever decide?

St. Louis in the Springtime

March 18, 2008
Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis

Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis

I lived in St. Louis for a long time – about twenty years.  One of the things that I came to love about it was watching the progress of spring.  The very first thing that happened was the opening of the witch hazel blooms – which look more like the blasted remains of some distant past flowering than an actual flower itself, but which smell heavenly when the weather is warm enough.  Next would come the crocus and snowdrops.

Right now, I’m in St. Louis again, and just in time for the intersection of the witch hazel and the crocus/snowdrop emergence.  Sunday, partly sunny and moderate, was the perfect day to visit the Missouri Botanical Gardens and see exactly to what point spring had progressed.  By Monday the rains had come – another indispensable part of spring.  Catching that moment – there’s some magma!