Across the Heartland

Happy Fourth of July weekend, my fellow Americans. 

Lake Maloney, Nebraska.

Considering the COVID situation, here’s my report of what it was like traveling through thirteen states in two weeks. 5,000 miles. For the record, wearing masks, sanitizing our hands, distancing ourselves, and sleeping in our camper away from people was a mandatory situation.  Map from Meadville, Pennsylvania 16335 to Clarkdale, Arizona

30 h (2,075.9 mi or 3340.83721 km) via I-40, 55, 80, 76, 25, 17

Yesterday, Jim and I drove 800 miles. No, we aren’t masochists. It’s just that by late afternoon, we were in New Mexico and state parks were closed. Any forest road that provided dispersed camping was miles out of our way. We grew tired and cranky; we gave up and parked in the Walmart parking lot outside of Albuquerque, NM. The round trip was shy of 5,000 miles averaging 600 miles a day on the road.

What a difference from the previous night when we found beautiful Lake Maloney, Nebraska. You’d never know there was a pandemic in Nebraska. I stopped in a Walmart to buy stuff. No one wore masks. No one seemed concerned. (That’s a hasty generalization. Forgive me.) Campers stayed away from each other.

New Mexico, on the other hand, had lights blaring on the interstate informing people they would be fined if they didn’t have masks on. Everyone seemed to wear a mask. My point is each state we traveled through had a distinct response to the pandemic.

Can you imagine the memories made today with this pair of brothers learning how to jump in the lake?

We scratched our heads wondering how on earth the pandemic would spread here. It was creepy.

The state of Kansas didn’t want anyone from Arizona passing through, so we rerouted our itinerary and got out of there as fast as possible. We found ourselves on a back road in the middle of nowhere for hours.

Northern Oklahoma surprised me by how pretty it was. Lots of trees, hills, and green grass. We were in the Bible Belt. The towns were manicured and spacious. Half of the people I saw wore masks. That night,  we parked in a monstrous parking lot of the Church of the Nazarene because Ruby would have plenty of space to run in the grass on the compound. We hoped no one would mind and no one did.

Because our travels took us mostly through rural areas, there was no problem self-distancing. Once we arrived at our destinations, Jim stayed in Pennsylvania on his cousin’s 18-acre farm where distancing was easy. Jim’s purpose was to visit his father who was 91 and frail. I stayed indoors in a bubble world with my Mom for a week. We kept our tradition of an afternoon drive with an ice cream cone in hand.

Morning walks around Zearing Park, Princeton, Illinois

This was the first trip I experienced where a situation like the COVID affected my perceptions of America. Like most Americans, we had many discussions in the car about the state of the United States. This was no vacation. The trip was a heavy one.

Traveling through the heart of the country made me appreciate the communities I observed from afar. The towns we passed through and the lives of ordinary people who work hard and take care of their yards. It matters. I respect their gardens. I respect the farmers out on their tractors. I respect those who go to church. I admire the flower pots, the trimmed hedges, the canned vegetables, the sheets hanging on the line. I am thankful for the time my mother has left on this earth. I appreciate my job, my friends, my family, and my country. Even though we are going through a bad patch of dysfunction. I am resolved to stay calm and carry on.

Road Trip to Illinois

Jim, Ruby, and I headed across the country on a road trip last week. Our camper kept us self-contained. It seemed like the best way to travel amidst restrictions without contaminating ourselves, others, and more importantly, our ailing parents. We are running out of time; the trip was necessary. Jim dropped me off in Illinois while he continued on to PA to his hometown. These times are bittersweet. Reuniting with children and meeting a new grandson kept the smiles coming while we combat the sadness of the imposing inevitable.

Map from Clarkdale, Arizona to Princeton, Illinois 61356

24 h (1,592.9 mi or 2563.52406 km) via I-40 E and US-54 E

You were my stabilizer.
No matter the path, or how far I strayed, I always knew you loved me.

 

Recycle me into a tree. Walk by and hug my trunk. Let me shade you from the sun.
I want to be that swallow that spends its day gliding over green blades fishing for worms.
Hazy sunrise with dew point at 70.

Tomorrow we drive toward the West and leave behind the humidity. We return to the dry heat. Back to responsibilities. Each mile away from the sorrow, or toward the ache like a tooth’s dry socket? Back and forth, we are in motion, back and forth until it’s time to say the long goodbye. 

1 Shot Wednesday: Smoke in the Valley

Living next to a wilderness area, lightning can strike during monsoon season and start a wildfire. That’s an annual threat in Arizona. The smoke travels and descends into pockets of the terrain and sits there causing poor air quality for animals and people. This picture is bizarrely beautiful. Taken in 2014, the wind pushed the smoke from a fire forty miles away to the Verde Valley.