Transitions

What happens to a travel blog when the trip has ended? Not much, if recent (lack of) posts are any indication.

I’ve been reluctant to write a final summary, as it would mean the trip is really over. Which, of course, it is. We’ve had a temporary home in a cute little Healdsburg cottage for three weeks now. Patrick zips off to an office every day and I’m so close to being employed I actually attended a meeting yesterday. I’m making the most of my last two weeks of free time. The Russian River slips by just out of sight across the street from our house, and all day teens in bright bathing suits traipse past laden with inner tubes and rafts – summer vacation distilled.

This little gargoyle hangs out at our rental cottage.

Someone once told me people in general like change but dislike transition. They were speaking of politics, but the sentiment holds true for other life changes, too. There’s an uncertainty that’s both exciting and disquieting. It took us a few weeks to relax into our traveling schedule and become accustom to being around each other, and only each other, through all our splendid days. Now we’re going through that transition in reverse, getting back in the swing of schedules, responsibilities, deadlines. And then, in nine (!!) weeks, we’ll make that other big transition, from companions to husband and wife.

For the time being I feel suspended, neither a wayward traveler nor truly settled. It’s too early to know which memories will be enduring. The mind, old sieve, will filter out what it wishes and in a few years I’ll have a handful of solid moments, like a collection of stones. If I concentrate now, I could recount each day. But I’ll lose more and more moments the longer we’re home.

There’s a big hill behind our house. When I hiked up the other day, a squirrel crashed off in the underbrush, and though the air smelled of redwoods and bay laurel, it instantly brought me back to Graham Cave Sate Park in Missouri. In December we stopped there for a walk one cold afternoon, the only visitors as far as we could tell. Hoping to see deer, I was fooled time and time again by gray squirrels dashing through fallen leaves, sounding like animals ten times their size. I look forward to more of those sudden memories.

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Forests Everywhere

Passage

In all the woods that day I was
the only living thing
fretful, exhausted, or unsure.
Giant fir and spruce and cedar trees
that had stood their ground
three hundred years
stretched in sunlight calmly
unimpressed by whatever
it was that held me
hunched and tense above the stream,
biting my nails, calculating all
my impossibilities.
Nor did the water pause
to reflect or enter into
my considerations.
It found its way
over and around a crowd
of rocks in easy flourishes,
in laughing evasions and
shifts in direction.
Nothing could slow it down for long.
It even made a little song
out of all the things
that got in its way,
a music against the hard edges
of whatever might interrupt its going.

I love that last line. I’m trying to make music with hard edges, too.

 

Warming our Cockles

I hardly know what to say about the past two weeks except that they have been rich and busy and wonderful. In the past 14 days we’ve driven through 10 states plus the District of Columbia and visited 10 different groups of family and friends. It’s the most familiar faces we’ve seen in the rest of the trip combined!

Now that Patrick and I are getting married, the rare opportunity to spend time with East Coast family and friends is even more meaningful. Over leisurely meals and cups of coffee family tales were trotted out and told from various points of view. Photos were pulled from albums and folders. My Aunt Alice even had a letter to Santa from 1957, in which my father requested a hunting rifle, and all the siblings together begged for a puppy. I don’t know the status of the rifle, but I know a blonde Cocker Spaniel was beneath the tree that year, decked with a red bow and wriggling. Taffy, as the pup was called, later went on to eat a couch.

Thank you to everyone for being so generous with stories and laughter; for packing our cupboards with homemade goodies; for filling our RV tanks with water and our bellies with delicious meals. Alice, Ryan, Johany, Nicole, Henry, Dave, Sarah, Emily, Kathleen, Mike, Carla, Katie, Raymond, Connie, Andrew, Docky, Dick, Bob, Anne, Annie, Rob, Molly, Phoebe, Donna….We love you.

The Restless Ones

Invariably, when telling new people about this trip, someone always asks, “what do your parents think?”

“They’re thrilled,” I say.

You see, they did the same thing.

In 1974, just a few years into their marriage, my New Jersey-born-and-bred parents boxed up their apartment, quit their jobs and packed a VW bus. Knowing they didn’t want to settle in a big city and feeling the pull of the great open West, they set out on a journey to see the country and find somewhere new to call home.

Slides document their trip. In the darkened room, the bright bulb of the projector makes dust motes flash like tiny satellites and the old carousel whirrs and clicks. Each photo is a story they tell together, filling in details, complementing each other. The day they woke with the camper surrounded by a herd of cows. The campsite by the river with a little laundry and lending library. The meadow where they first saw bear grass.

They were a decade younger than Patrick & I are now. Their pictures look so much like the kinds of photos we’re taking. And my parents – my beautiful mom, long hair parted in the middle, smiling up from a book, my handsome bearded dad, grinning as he holds a just-caught fish – look just like the kind of people we’d be friends with. In a way, this trip lets me get to know them better. Or, imagine their lives before me better, at least.

In Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck theorizes the urge to explore and seek out new places is genetic. “The pioneers, the immigrants who peopled the continent, were the restless ones in Europe. The steady rooted ones stayed home and are still there,” he writes. “But every one of us….are descended from the restless ones, the wayward ones who were not content to stay at home. Wouldn’t it be unusual if we had not inherited this tendency?”

I’m grateful to my restless parents. Parents who passed down, perhaps, an itch to see the country. Who said, “GO!” when I told them about this adventure. Who showed me that working hard and having a good career are important, but not the only important things. If Patrick and I ever have kids, I’m glad this trip will be part of our family narrative. And I hope I pass down curious, restless DNA. I can think of no better legacy.

Vacation from Vacation

The Minnie is parked, her water lines winterized, her fridge emptied, her heater turned off for the season. Like migrating birds we have flown south and will be in Costa Rica until February 1st.

Our inaugural test Winnebago outing was on NYE just a year ago. Now we send our thanks and gratefulness out into the ether, and wish you all the most merry of New Years! May 2012 bring your biggest, most audacious dreams within reach.

This is what happens…

…when you agree not to exchange Christmas gifts, but still want to get your sweetheart a little holiday present.

…when you want to give something small, something practical and something you’ll both be able to enjoy.

…when you were pretty similar to begin with, and then you spend every day together for five straight months living in 160 square feet of space.

Beyond the Hundredth Meridian, John Wesley Powell, Wallace Stegner

You give each other the exact same gift.

 

Garden of the Gods, Illinois

I’d like to type while we’re driving, but it makes me carsick, so I just sit in the passenger seat, watching raindrops dance on the windshield, thinking up sentences that never make it to a page. The radio is tuned to a folk station. Beneath us the grey-black asphalt rumbles as we speed through little towns with little populations. Towns like Dale, Indiana, where I filled my belly with pancakes at Windell’s, which is closing on Sunday after serving families and church groups and Kiwanis Clubs since 1947. The cab of the RV is soothing with the heat on full-blast and the slap of the wipers setting a beat for harmonies between the radio and the hum of the pavement. I’m drowsy. Alongside the road, the Ohio River strains at its banks like a fat belly against a belt.

Maybe I’m a little homesick. Maybe I need a nap or a beer or a cozy new sweater. Maybe it’s just the rain, but I’ve got this bluesy feeling and I’m worrying my Big Stuff Worries, wondering what happens when this trip ends, where we’ll live, what I’ll do, what comes next. I pop these thoughts in my mouth like a cinnamon hard candy to roll around on my tongue. I tuck them into the softness of my cheek where I taste them every time I inhale. Everything I say comes out laced with Big Stuff worries, the scent of cinnamon behind all my words. The river outside pulses and threatens to overflow.

All the state parks belong to us now. In wide river bottoms and beside hardwood-rimmed lakes hundreds of empty campsites line up in neat loops, saving space for the summer crowds, the weekend boaters and the suntanned shouting kids. The bathhouses may be locked and picnic tables turned over against impending snow, but these places are ours alone. We walk slick trails in the company of cardinals and white-tailed deer. Even now, slender roots are pushing down through the earth, small are buds forming beneath a thick layer of fallen leaves. The woods exhale a rush of wind.

Waldo Lake, Oregon

High in the Willamette National Forest, Waldo Lake is tucked in a glacier-carved valley amidst pine trees and huckleberries. Revered among Oregon canoers and kayakers, Waldo is one of the clearest lakes in the world; it has no permanent inlets beyond snowmelt and lacks the nutrients needed for significant plant growth. Visibility here reaches depths of up to 150 feet, occasionally an eerie phenomena, such as when you glimpse watery shadows of your canoe on the lake floor far below, or see stumps of trees, ghost-like and covered in silt, deep in the water.

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