It’s shocking to me that even the things we don’t want or ask for sometimes have the power to change us.
Starting September 30th, I went on a trip that spanned over 3,600 miles, eight states, and thirty-two days. I didn’t particularly want to go (due to health and work reasons) but I quickly got over it and geared myself up for the back pain I would doubtless be in after hours of driving.
My parents and I set out that morning with a suitcase that I argued was completely necessary size-wise, a Cordoba ukulele (in protective case; so I could still write music), a handy art bin (so I could still paint), a portfolio of magazine cuttings and pieces from projects I am currently still working on, a purse, a laptop bag, and that was just my stuff. Girl can pack a carry-on for a plane trip, but Girl likes her shoes and her duffel bag on the road! I was packing for several different climates, in my defense!
When my dad (a social justice advocate, teacher, trainer, and fellow-of-many-trades) was asked to speak at a few different events in the same month, it made sense to do what we had often done as a family throughout my childhood; he would ask to put expense funding towards gas instead of a plane ticket then bring the whole family to each of the cities he had speaking engagements in.
As a kid, I have vivid memories of stirring out of sleep at 3:30 am stumbling into the car with my pillows, and watching the sunrise behind us through the trees as the scenes passed by. I used to pretend that I was an important diplomat or emissary traveling from one made-up land to another, and there were flying figures outside of the car flitting along behind us to protect me, battling forces of evil as we drove on into the blinding day.
I have what some would call an overactive imagination.
Our first stop this trip was the Grand Canyon. I’ve been to the Grand Canyon before on one of our family trips, the only one I can remember taking with my British grandparents, and it was there I discovered my fear of heights. I was probably ten years old, and leaning up against the hot summer sun baked metal railing I gasped at the enormous distance between me and the bottom of the canyon. The chasm between me and the other side.
Years later I am still awestruck. I still have an overactive imagination, and I picture leaping off the cliff over my fears and swooping down into the cavernous negative space aloft a glider. This time, it is the years of history, travel, wonder, and awe that stir me the most, not the stomach-flipping nausea of fear.
We get to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where I am to stay for a week with good friends while my parents carry on to Denver. My brother is in Hawaii, we are only three on this trip and I don’t notice immediately how different it is taking this nostalgic kind of trip with my family -1. But in Santa Fe we have grilled salmon with trusted friends (more like family; most of our friends are) and we discuss the future, the past, the present, the tragedies and the triumphs.
I have some retreat time in Santa Fe, a planned break to recover from my debut art show in September featuring pieces from a project that involved many mediums, five months of planning, and around fifty canvas pieces. The break is welcomed, and I spend a few days by myself. My friend teaches a Nia class while I am there, and I go and dance out some of my stress. The house I am staying in has a sweeping view of the city and the Sangre De Cristo mountains with their blood-red beauty. Humbling beauty.
My friends and I drive to Denver, discussing everything under the sun and pondering the complexities of life. They are about to be grandparents again and I am in a rewarding, happy relationship with the kind of man I used to write about in stories and hoped would be real someday.
Coming back to Denver is always bizarre for me. I lived there for ten years, grew up there, and in some ways it’s the same and others totally different. Maybe hometowns are always this way. I see sweet friends and reminisce, I am asked to be a bridesmaid, and I feel the nostalgia when the fall leaves crunch under my feet. October is my favorite time to be in Denver.
Then in Boise, with my parents, we meet with a family who is working as a refugee support system to help those forced from their homes and countries to integrate into ours. They have a girl and a boy, and they remind me of myself and my little brother. Their mom makes gluten-free cheese bread rolls to die for. We talk about the Myers-Briggs test and reconciling differences. Compromises.
We drive on to Ashland, Oregon, and I fall in love. It’s been a few years since I went through Oregon, and I miss it often. It has, for me, the perfect blend of green damp and U.S. landscape. It reminds me of England, where I lived until I was eight, and the States, which I have called home since. Ashland smells like home, and the charming town enchants the holy heck outta me. The friends we stay with take us to a shop, where I find the perfect red dress on sale and leave too happy for words.
North to Salem. During my stay here I teach alongside my dad on the subject of creativity. I always seem to learn something as well. The students are a group of missionaries. My dad and I tell jokes and the whole process feels creative. I roll my eyes at the dad-jokes, but can’t resist a little slapstick when it’s my turn. Working with my parents is one of my joys.
Then a friend and I hit a hardcore concert in Portland with some other guys and I’m reminded of all the times I spent as the only girl in a group of guys. It feels natural and hilarious and we have a great time.
That last week I was so ready to come home, but I didn’t know exactly what it would look like. A whirlwind trip like this can feel more like three months than one, can start to change how you think, can bring you around to a new side of yourself. Living out of a suitcase is only fun for so long in these circumstances, but I was enjoying myself.
Yet… home was calling me and when I finally crawl up into my own sheets in my own bed in some pajamas that aren’t the same ones worn the past thirty-two nights, I do a little wiggly dance and laugh maniacally to myself.
The weirdness is there still. I’m home for just a week, but now time is working the opposite way and instead of feeling longer, time feels shorter. Didn’t I just get back yesterday?
In response to the sheer beauty encountered on this trip, I suddenly find myself looking up information about eco-friendly paper towel templates, ethical clothing, fast fashion, and the benefits of organic cotton. I start throwing out bottles with sodium laurel sulfates in them. The ingredients on the products in my bathroom suddenly become very important to me. What is a phthalate, why is it in my stuff, and why does it matter?
I’m sorry if this is a stretch for some of you, I never promised I was sane, but I think it was this trip. You see, I revisited the world I knew as a kid, the world of trips with my family across the West. The Rockies, their glory. The towering evergreens of North Oregon. The desert of Arizona and Santa Fe, all the colors.
Since my adolescence, many adventures around the world, and an increasing love of the arts, I have become jaded with the American Dream. I don’t support the ideal that America is the greatest nation in the world, that it is indivisible, or that it is free of the hypocrisy that all human beings (including myself) are in some way subject to.
But I love this country.
I want to help this world, to encourage others to do the same. How can I help someone else to understand how important it is that the sky stays as blue and clear and beautiful as it was when I was a kid? Or that the crops are nutritious, the cotton less sprayed, the trees and animals that I watched for preserved rather than exterminated?
I started in September thinking that this trip all over the Western United States was simply going to make me sore and tired and unproductive. But I’ve come back with a realization that the country I live in and the people it contains are so much more beautiful and worthy than I have words for. And that I can do something, even a little something, to help keep it that way.