There is a point on U.S. Highway 84 heading West where the road seems to descend into this big gouge in the landscape, past millennia of accumulated sediments in the strata gouged, revealed and polished by successive glacial floods.
It dips down from the arid and Martian-featured landscape of the Columbia plateau and the Channeled Scablands to where the big, blue river rolls peacefully toward the Pacific.
It’s this point where I feel like I’m coming home. Where the landscape transforms from wide plains to steep walls traversed by mountain goats. Where green oasis appear wherever streams and rivers meet the mighty Columbia.
I love that feeling of turning onto a road I’ve never driven before. That moment when the familiar gives way to the unknown.
When your eyes fill up with brand-new views, and you have to work harder for every moment.
There is no auto pilot here.
When pulling off Highway 90 onto 18 in Madison, you can feel the transition more than just the four and five lines giving way to two lanes. You can feel it in the increasing number of pickup trucks, combines, clotheslines, Chevy Caprice police cruisers and supper clubs.
Gabrielle and I approached the breakfast buffet at the Comfort Inn in Columbia, South Carolina, trepidatiously.
That is to say we’ve been there before.
That moment when you walk into the foyer of whatever cheap hotel occupies every single exit from here to Modesto, and you discover that it looks like it’s been pillaged by Viking raiders.
The tables were covered in the viscera of yogurts and bananas, whose skeletons and skins bulged in a heap atop the trash can like a pile of bodies ready for the pyre.
Sloppy paper notes indicated the orange juice, waffles and sausages were gone. Forever.
So we made up toast with jam, salvaged the rest of the Fruit Loops and drank apple-juice colored water and headed to the pool, where I taught her my secret skills of playing the mouth trumpet in an echoe-y room.
“You’re really good at that dad,” she said.
“I know,” I replied. “I want you to put that on my grave stone.”
She just looked sideways at me and continued to swim.
I started writing this from the Chili’s across from the Comfort Inn we’re staying at in Dentsville, South Carolina tonight.
The kids are staring at me after I just scolded them for replying to the waitress with their typical “ya,” or barely discernible grunt meant to infer that yes, they would indeed like fries with their burger.
“This is the South, where people are polite, and when they ask you if you want fries with your burger, you say yes please,” I told them.
They replied with those barely discernible grunts meant to infer that they indeed understood what I was saying.
After a long evening with Jon in Cincinnati, I was up early, as is my usual habit. I showered, dressed and sat in bed for a while waiting to wake my sleeping wife and kids.
We were going to blow through Cincinnati after a short beer stop with my buddy Jon.
We’d make our way down to Lexington and have a short hop over to Asheville in the morning.
But we met at the Rhinegeist, which felt good in the way a creative spot feels good. The brewery in a massive industrial space filled with people celebrating the end of a workweek and the upcoming holidays.
The beer was phenomenal, and catching up with one of my dearest friends was too easy in the way that makes a new place feel homey kind of way.
The kids played corn hole, ping pong and fusbal while the adults caught up, and we all waited for the pizzas Jon ordered.
I took my first solo trip when I was 13, flying from Washington D.C. to San Francisco unaccompanied and absolutely sick to my stomach through the entire flight.
I used two barf bags, which I held in my lap because the passengers next to me were both deaf and sleeping. A kind but ultimately doomed flight attendant disposed of these for me when she realized my predicament.
To top it off, upon our descent into San Francisco, our plane hit a downdraught and lost nearly 5,000 feel of altitude in a single moment. We dropped so fast the flight attendant actually hit the roof of the plane about a dozen seats in front of me.
I don’t believe in writer’s block, but something happens in the spring. I can write a thousand words every day in winter, but when the sun comes out, I want to live it not tell about it.
Still, things happen every day. Lessons are learned, experiences are had. Some you catalogue out of a sense of duty, some are buried away for contemplation on a rainy day, and some are fleeting, like a cool breeze on a warm day.
This is why you write every day. Some of us have minds like vast containers capable of storing every imaginable thing. And some of us have minds like cluttered drawers, chalk full of the detritus of our travels and adventures.
My nightstand looks like this. I cannot cram the old drawers shut any longer. The bottom drawer is full of small things that remind me of long ago. There are marathon bibs and medals, an action figure I’ve always loved, a badge a friend gave me, papers and notebooks I save, even if there are just a few notes in them. The top drawer is full of newer memories, manila envelopes with old tax statements, a knife I earned on an outdoor adventure, some newspaper clips from my reporting days and a leather pouch with some favorite pipe tobacco in it.
Writing is like this. You file away the pieces of your experience in sentences and paragraphs for later reference so you don’t have to make up the details later on.
You write to capture all the in betweens, the intangibles leftover from the stuff in the drawers.
I this way, you have a more complete picture of your life or the life you’re trying to create.