By Richard DeRosa
We arrived at our winter redoubt in Arizona about a week ago. We have made this cross-country trek several times and always enjoy it. Even look forward to it.
Each of us experiences it differently. And those differences have elicited some curious responses when chatting about it with friends, not to mention some friendly quarreling about when to turn on
the radio to catch up on the news.
One of my quirks when traveling is to shut out the news as much as possible. I could easily drive back and forth across this endlessly beautiful and fascinating country without ever turning on a radio or sticking those god-awful buds into my ears. I am one of those rare birds who, as Thoreau put it so sagely in Walden, has “never met a companion as companionable as solitude.”
As I see it, how could I possibly see this country, really see it — meaning looking at it — if my attention were distracted by, well, noise. A puzzled friend once asked how it could be possible to sit behind the wheel all day without some sort of extra-curricular entertainment. I realize my response might have seemed a bit pompous. I enjoy and relish each and every thought that invades that silence. As I see it, there is never a dearth of things to think about, not is their ever a shortage of interesting — and thought-provoking — scenery to digest visually and aesthetically. Some examples:
I can do a fair amount of birding while driving, all the while keeping my eyes and mind on the job of driving. I rarely ever go beyond the posted speed limit, sometimes maybe a mile or two below. I figure in that way my mind is free of the worry of being pulled over (got a nasty warning from the DMV years ago!) And, quite frankly, what is the big hurry.
I see hawks perched on tree tops and atop telephone poles that I would never see at home. It has also enhanced my visual identification acuity, since I must take a quick inventory of salient characteristics and check my inclination as to species when we stop for the night. Years ago while driving across North Dakota I happened to see a black bird with a yellow head pecking at something near the road. A yellow-headed blackbird. Took me a while to check it out in the blackbird section of my field guide.
Rivers, creeks, streams; the larger ones come to mind. On this trip I was fascinated by the many rivers we crossed, some wide, others barely a trickle. I wish I could remember all the names. Next time. But I do remember Brushy Creek and the Happy Bank while driving through western Texas two years ago. If my ears were in service to anything but silence so much of what makes this vast and beautiful land so fascinating would easily have passed me by. Names and places evoke thought — about the lives lived there and our common humanity and yet we express it so differently.
The often garishly decorated crosses that crop up so often on our highways prompt me to wonder about the lives lost, the grieving families and friends, and the extent to which otherwise happy lives might have been changed forever. I also wonder if these memorials have the preventative effects they represent. Given some of the reckless antics we witnessed on this and other drives, I doubt it.
Most of all while driving I often find myself seeking answers to questions bugging me as well as some tricky existential conundrums. I thought most about how we might bridge the divide that defines our cultural discourse these days. No final thoughts yet. But what strikes me most, marveling at all that I see, it just seems so downright silly wasting so much time and energy on what divides us when there is so much for us to be thankful for and celebrate together. I know Gabby would agree with that sentiment.