Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Not a highway girl

I am a side-road traveler, not a highway girl.

I was contemplating this as we drove to and from Holland, Michigan, to my husband's family Christmas. We almost always choose the scenic route. Yesterday, for example, we turned off the main road (a two-lane highway) looking for something on the map called Amishville in mid-eastern Indiana. While not quite the attraction we had anticipated (not in winter anyway), we were treated to: a variety of horse-drawn buggies we easily [almost woefully] overtook; neat, sprawling farms; solid blocks of color flapping in the chilly wind on clotheslines; and an absence of the clutter of electric lines. It was simply beautiful country eerily wrapped in a white blanket and punctuated by a misty sun, translucently peering through the dense cloud cover.

Okay, it took us a couple of hours longer, but the images and impressions linger and it was not merely getting from point A to point B. It was a journey.

Yesterday's reminded me of the annual pilgrimage to Iowa my family undertook every Christmas to visit my paternal and maternal grandparents. We ventured out in a '67 Chevy Caprice wagon complete with wood-look paneling, snaking along two-lane highways at night when the barn lights would sparkle off the mounds of snow. It was magical ... especially when viewed from the comfort of the "way" back amid sleeping bags and pillows. Small towns decorate in a manner different than anywhere else and yesterday, I saw they still do: dusting off the 1960s lights and worn figures that echo a simpler time and place. And call my heart to the anticipation of what lay ahead: warm houses, bear hugs and more Christmas allure than a kid could stand. Yesterday's scenery evoked a familiar heart flutter.

As a couple, we've always travelled like this. Stretching a two-hour jaunt between Vermont bed-and-breakfasts into an all-day meandering, joyful trek. Our girls are accustomed to this method and understand stops are certain to be unusual. I seem to have a nose for ferreting out the unusual along the way as well as the best local watering/eating hole.

I believe it's a way of life. Of taking the time, observing and letting what's along the path touch us. Not being in such a rush to get one place.

So I wonder what places along the way the new year holds more than where I'll be, exactly, in 12 months.

• What kind of traveler am I?
• When I spend the time to enjoy the ride, what's the reward?
• How does my travel style correspond to the way I live?
• What magical travel memory can I recall I'd have missed if I'd have been in a rush?
• What course (intention)  am I setting for the new year?

I could have been home earlier
to unpack earlier
to get to bed earlier
to sleep earlier
to get up earlier
to start the day in the same pattern


I could have chosen the scenic route,
filling my head and senses with something new
an escape from my ordinary life
glimpsing another way
recalling childhood dreams
and delivering me to the same place

and yet I arrive in a very different place


  1. Lovely to read of your off-the-beaten path holiday journey and to reflect more on ours - by train from Seattle to New York City. The Seattle-to-Chicago leg was a treat with 2 nights in a sleeping car, meals shared with strangers (for a few minutes, then quickly becoming friends) in the dining car, and glimpses of mountains, plains, rivers, and forests we've usually flown over in a jet or sped past in an automobile. Our arrival in Chicago was 5 hours late which meant a dash to a train to NY, the least comfortable seats in coach, and a suitcase that didn't catch up with us for 2 days. Still, didn't negate the pleasures of slow travel. We arrived at our daughter's apartment in Brooklyn, having taken the scenic route and with our Pacific Time systems gradually shifted over 3 days to the Eastern zone. This is not the way we typically make the coast-to-coast trek, but perhaps it will become so. I'm looking forward to the return in a few days and to discovering the different place it might take me to.

  2. What an amazing adventure. I love train travel, but do it so rarely here, and the idea of you going from one coast to the other over several days. I am certain you made friends; you have such a bright, welcoming spirit. Keep me posted on the journey back!