Life is full of surprises. And it actually keeps some of them, apparently, in Idaho.
I embarked on a 13 hour trek yesterday from Provo, Utah to Hillsboro, Oregon. This meant the usual, obligatory trip through Endless Idaho. There are two things that I would never think of encountering in Idaho, and yet, did: traffic and hard rock.
Idaho is the last place in the universe I'd expect to encounter hard rock (and yes, I'm including uninhabited planets). As I went through radio stations on my clunky radio from the Cretaceous period, I expected to hear lots of country, oldies, and I dunno, the Osmonds or something. Imagine my surprise and joy to hear a hard rock station.
This realization coincided with a realization of changed landscape. I realized that the land was different than it was in Utah. The clouds had scattered. The staggering mountains were more distant, replaced by immediate mesas with abrupt tabletops.
So there I was, sitting on the duct-tape covered seat of my grimy little white pickup that shares my age, a dorm's worth of junk in the back covered by a plastic tarp with some boots poking out, Kid Rock's "Bawitdaba" blaring in my ears, when tumbleweeds bounced across the highway.
There was only one word that I could find that explained the satisfaction of this moment:
I was West.
It's interesting to me how these moments occur. How these small, ordinary moments spark something bright deep inside you. You can't pinpoint exactly how or why they happen; they just do.
I remember some other instances. Mowing the lawn two summers ago while listening to Flogging Molly. Walking back from a sand volleyball game. Seeing a guy unicycling down the sidewalk in the dead of winter.
I was pulled out of this when I came upon the other There-Is-No-Way-In-Heck-That-This-Could-Ever-Happen-In-Idaho probability item: traffic. I didn't think there were enough vehicles in Idaho to produce traffic. Everybody had to merge into one lane because the other had been marked off by bright orange construction cones for what was, apparently, a Construction Equipment Convention. Dozens of large, impressive-looking machines were sitting all in a row. There were a good ten construction workers there; one of them got to actually sit in one of the machines and poke away at the asphalt while the others admired the other machines, most of them waving around bright orange flags (because that is a color that this scene simply did not have enough of). I think it is sad scenes like this that make people protest road construction, and probably what inspired the emphatic "END ROAD WORK" signs posted later on the road. Hear, hear!
Signs become more interesting while you're on long road trips, if only because they're more interesting than the bumper of the little Honda that you've been staring at for the past 4 hours. Some good ones I found:
"DO NOT PASS" (Feeling rebellious, I passed through a gateway of these.)
"International Museum of Carousel Art"
"NEXT RIGHT - Bridge of the Gods"
Sometimes, it almost makes you want to stop. Bridge of the Gods? Could someone knowingly pass by something that calls itself that? I guess they do it every day; I know I did.
As I descended into Oregon, into this canyon valley of greens that wound around hills and trees, I was happy to be coming home. There were seriously rows of rainbow hills. There were brown hills, light then dark green behind, these purplish rolls behind them, and these dark blue mountains in the distance that looked like someone had spilled chalk dust on their tops. Yes, I'm obnoxiously trying to paint a picture here. There was something about being surrounded by beauty and then the immediate connection to all the feelings of coming home, to where you know places and people and maybe even yourself. I tried to write this paragraph in my head as I drove through this experience, trying to figure out some way to paint those same feelings for someone else, maybe let them be surprised by sudden joy the same way I was, and all that I can give you is the image of winding around rainbow hills.
I think that as we struggle to describe feelings and ideas that seem evasively important, we're given these physical scenes and experiences to bridge the gap and make the connection. Heh. Is that the Bridge of the Gods? A God-given, mercifully physical bridge between what we can see and understand and what we desperately need to feel? And maybe that's when we have those tumbleweed moments, when everything seems designed to point us to one feeling we wouldn't experience otherwise.
I swear that wasn't contrived. Just seeing myself type the words "bridge the gap" reminded me of the Bridge of the Gods, and I reflected that maybe that's what that bridge really is. I started this lengthy entry determined to title it "I am west," but a more appropriate title is probably "Bridge of the Gods."
I had some more experiences, including an interesting pass through a desperate and small town, thoughts on journeys and solitude, clever comments about my truck's frustrating tarp, and insights into the lyrics of "Bawitdaba." (I am kidding, kind of.)
As I prepare to go on my 25 day trek this Monday, I think of Emerson's warning:
"Traveling is a fool's paradise. We owe to our first journeys the discovery that place is nothing."
Is place nothing?