Friday, March 27, 2009

It's the journey!

I can fly to any corner of the country within a few hours time. With a few days off work I can visit with any of my kids and grandkids. But, something is missing. I'm going to my destination, but I'm bypassing the journey. Clearly we have gained something with the ability to get to our destinations quickly. What I want to do is look at what we have lost. What are we missing while we make a leap over to our destination?

With each increase in the speed of travel, our range of travel increases. But, with each increase we see less along the way. Before there were trains and cars people rarely traveled far from their community. The only window I have into what their journeys were like is my experiences walking or bike riding as my transportation.

There was a time when I didn't have a car, but rode a bike 14 miles each way to and from work. The goal was to get to work as a grounds person in a mobile home park. I remember the job, but I also remember the ride to and from work. I started out in the city, then out to miles of road going through hay fields and pasture land. With destination in mind I rode thought the smell of dry California grass. The fresh air was made more obvious by the occasional smell of exhaust. Bad smells such as dead skunks or dairy farms slowly overpowered other smells, then slowly diminished. I saw miles of barb wire fences with their rust and zinc coatings. This commute and other slow travels have taught me that trash can be beautiful. An old newspaper in the ditch turns earth brown as it returns to soil. Some tin cans had faded commercial artwork slowly turning a red-brown.

Given a choice I would have driven. I like driving. I like watching the road pass under my car, and the scenery zipping by the windows. The fences become a rhythm with the beat provided by the posts, and the barbs smoothed by the speed. The color of the barb wire is lost, and it becomes a pencil line across from post to post. At the speed of a car there is little pretty about an old tin can. Driving lets me get past the dead skunk or the dairy farm faster, but the costs are the details. Moments of smell, are now blended into a stew of exhaust, grass, and car upholstery.

As a child we did a lot of travel. I remember traveling by car. I couldn't read in a moving car. I slept, looked out the window, discussed things with the family, avoided the science questions my father would ask, and bugged my older brothers and sister. I watched the other cars. Except for sleeping (and for others, reading) everyone was living in the present. The past was in our memory, or in the rear view mirror. The future: the dotted white line and our plans. Fiction was in our dreams.

I like driving. I like the excitement of the freshly packed car and anticipation of the journey. Dianne and I took one of these trips in December, driving down to Santa Fe New Mexico for a few days. The destination was important. We zipped down on I25, wind buffeting the car. We almost ran out of gas. We picked up a hitchhiker who wasn't as lucky. We gassed at a truck stop that had classic cars. Then after a great visit, (excluding my driving one day) we drove much of the way back on 2-lane roads. I enjoyed the trip down, but high speeds and the multiple lanes made the scenery more distant than on our journey home. Taos was part of the journey home. We drove through the high flat valley between Taos and San Luis, Colorado, then through a mountain cut back to I-25. The slower travel allowed us to see the houses and ranches.

Journeys by car are not always pleasant. As a kid I remember getting car sick. A few years ago we drove the Blue Heron home from California. It broke down outside of Kingman AZ. Even being stuck there, and with the tension of hoping the car made it the rest of the way home, I remember the trip fondly. I could write a complete post about breakdowns during road trips. But, in most cases it was like riding the bike past a dead skunk. It wasn't pleasant, it took away from the total enjoyment, but it was only a part of the journey.

As a kid cars and bikes were not our only transport. There were a few boats and trains, but more often, planes. As a child we flew places, our 32 lbs of luggage below our feet. I remember looking out the window at the engine as it cranked to life. I remember the spew of exhaust of the newly started engines disappearing as the sound evened out. We would take off and fly over the distant scenery. The forests became a field of green spikes. The cars, little bugs, moved along their paths. I could see the toy towns, and mountains rose up below me trying to touch the bottom of the plane. We had to land for fuel and a chance to stretch our legs.

There are many beautiful pictures existing of the scenery below, looking through the translucent spinning propellers. There is enough detail to see the beauty. When I looked out I could see a clue as to what I was missing by being a few thousand feet a way.

These planes were not without detraction. I had older brothers to remind me of the danger of landing, something I remember to this day. The C-47, converted for passenger traffic had the ability to fly as high as 24,000 feet, easily clearing mountain tops. But the air would get thin in unpressurized cabins at a much lower altitude. Travel was tiring, but that was part of the journey.

Compared to the jet it took a lot longer to get places; 15 hours and three hops for a west coast to the east coast trip. In 1960 my family flew to Europe in a Boeing 707. No longer did the plane rise slowly up a ramp of air. Instead I became heavy as we were thrust upward. The scenery was even more distant. As time went on the planes flew higher. Rows of seat became wider so most people can't even see out. If I get a window, often the only view is the clouds below us. When I see the land I can tell little more than if it is flat or hilly. Farm irrigation can make circles. One range of mountain looks very much like another range. I look out the window trying to see landmarks, but it is my memory of when I passed there by car, or where we are on a map that brings significance to what I see from 35,000 feet.

Plane travel has become a wait for security, a trip over a map, and the destination. The journey is gone. It is now about the destination. Yes there can be a journey at the destination, but what am I missing? I miss the amber waves of grain and the purple mountains. I miss the plains. I get to my destination, but I have bypassed America.
This is a beautiful country. Not only are our mountains, coasts, and other destinations beautiful, but the travel to these places are beautiful. While driving the panhandle of Oklahoma there is beauty in the approaching storm. The rugged washes of the South West reveal millions of years of earths history. The art deco buildings of small towns bypassed are beautiful and disappearing. Not many people have experienced the friendly farmer loaning a tool to fix a car, and telling you to put the tool under a designated rock when you are done. That is now bypassed. Without the speed of the modern plane, it might be a decade between visits to my kids and grandkids. But, because of the speed my grandkids might never see much of America's beauty.


Blogger JonsterMom said...

Wow Dad! That is by far, the best blog post you have ever made! I love it!

4/4/09, 7:19 PM  
Blogger Granny Smith said...

I can't believe that I haven't already commented on this marvelous piece of writing! It is poetic. It is logical. And it evokes wonderful memories of family travel. I hope its not too late for you to look for comments on this post, because I love it, love it, and want you to know that I do!

5/2/09, 12:41 PM  

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