Two or three of these late summer days have passed while I lolly gag in the warmth of a fading season and allow my writing mind to form ideas that might best describe my 3,000 mile journey of the last few weeks. Each summer I try to get far from home by automobile to see a different part of the world that I have never seen before. For some, it is airplanes or trains, boats or kayaks, that move them to the pretty places in which they wish to dwell. I’ve tried a little of each of these, but find the convenience of having my own bed, sink, and refrigerator carried along behind me gives me such a great sense of comfort and stability. I suppose, ideally, if I could put my camper and truck on an airplane or boat and move it to some other exotic place in the world, I might find a new level of optimum comfort and pleasure.
The roads in America have a predictability that gives me the confidence to wander them and feel safe as I go. In this country we have rules of the road I understand, and there is the possibility of calling 9-1-1 when in trouble, or AAA if an automobile misbehaves. And so much asphalt has been set down that one can access almost any destination. The road seems to call us to come follow it as it crosses mountains and meadows, bridges and bays. Now that I have returned home, I am reflecting on all the undisturbed back country I have seen, and realize how much effort has been made to make this huge country available to all.
I should not be surprised, but I am anyhow. Once I leave the big and emboldened highways on my maps, the amount of traffic turns to a mere trickle. I would think that summer time vacationers would like to get out and see what their tax dollars have purchased for them, what landscape their year-round political haranguing with members of opposing parties is trying to preserve or protect. In this age of extreme science and fastidious concentration on the merits of materialism, I would expect people wanting to go look closely and inspect this portion of the skin of the earth we call America.
I know, however, that I am sort of an anomaly when it comes to viewing the earth in this way. For the first five years of my life I was growing quickly (I think I still am) and becoming more fascinated with the look and feel of the great outdoors, when, suddenly, school age started. I was jerked by law from my childhood bliss, and placed into the concentration factory, where I never felt the same sort of love and admiration for beauty as I did when outdoors looking at bugs, birds, trees, and the hills close-by on the edge of town. Now in retirement I have some time to continue where I was so rudely interrupted from my youthful pleasure and will. When I travel just to go look at geology and unblemished nature, I feel as if I am living childhood fantasies that were never realized.
I have some ideas about why these beautiful back roads of America are so empty in the late summer season, when travel is easiest. Primarily, gasoline is expensive and to burn a tank full or two each day for a couple of weeks amounts to a pretty good investment in the industry. But the cost of flying several people to the Hawaiian islands, or any other interesting place, is also quite pricey. And yet, the airports are crammed silly with people, so maybe back-country travel is not just about money. I heard one grocery store owner in a small mountain town say that people like to spend their holidays and vacations in and around large concrete buildings. Tree and water worship is a dying vacation religion.
Author Michael Pollan in his book Food Rules says that grocery stores do not put advertising and fanciful packaging in the produce section, but only where food is man-made and some outfit is in need of making much money from it. He calls this conspiracy the “silence of the yams”. I suspect the same phenomenon is going on with the great outdoors. Disneyland, Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, San Francisco–places where much money has been invested to make ever more money–must be advertised as being so appealing that few can resist adding the advertised excitement to their bucket lists. I must have learned at a young age to love what is not advertised.
I know people living in California who have been to the Greek Isles, Rome, Florence, Istanbul, Venice, Barcelona, and Paris, but have never been to the mouth of the Columbia River, the summit of Mount Lassen, the slopes of Mount Shasta, let alone the Oregon outback or the great volcanic lava flows of the Cascade mountains. I have been traveling remote parts of the North American west from lower Baja to Canada in my spare time for years and feel like I’ve only seen a small portion of it. The same tour that I have just completed, I could move over one more inch on my map, left or right, and it would be a whole new territory of delight for me.
I am hoping to write about some of the trip I just completed, but the current heat spell we are feeling on the California central coast–a preview of the Indian summer ahead–has slowed me from my ambitions.
I read the following from Amiel’s Journal Intime only yesterday:
“The function of the private journal is one of observation, experiment, analysis, contemplation; that of the essay or article is to provoke reflection; that of the book is to demonstrate”.
The account of my recent travels that I am proposing to write has perhaps some of all of that in it. I read Amiel regularly and take his philosophical wisdom to heart. I ponder whether an account of my recent road trip is a journal entry, article, or borderlines being a small book. When I have completed the writing, I will make a better estimation.
I have always thought of nature in simplistic terms, mother of all and home to me, so when I go out for a long spell of looking over the countryside I feel as if I am coming home. Home–to borrow some trite expression–is where the heart is, so I am venturing to find out where my heart is, when these modern times make me feel as if my heart is lost.
I fell one day and skinned my knee pretty good in some gravel. My sister, my companion on this long road trip, began to call me Wounded Knee. For those who have not read the Dee Brown classic Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, it is an incredibly dour account of the systematic destruction of the American Indians by a progressive nation who wanted to possess the land. I hopped around for a week with my wounded knee, and thought to myself how just only a few people are out enjoying large chunks of this country, which was won by spilling the blood of the natives. Maybe the rape, pillage, and plunder of the native people was for mere temporary contentment.