Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Thanksgiving - Part 4

"Part Four?" you ask. "Didn't you go to only three places?"

Yes, but there was a fourth part to our 3-stop Thanksgiving excursion. It was all the days and miles between and around our three stops.

We drove over 4000 miles in the 13 days we were gone. Those were great days, too. We loved being together and seeing parts of the country new to us.

I decided to do something a little different this trip. I bought a postcard in New Mexico at the first gas stop we made and decided to get postcards from every stop, hoping to get one from every state we passed through. I began writing little notes on the backs of the postcards, sort of journal style: little observations about the state, the stop, the scenery, the people...whatever. I really enjoyed documenting our trip this way. I think it's going to be a new form of recording things seen and experienced along the way. I'm going to bind them together somehow in book form and include some photos I took along the way and during our stays.

As usual, I also jotted down things in my journal, including interesting and funny names along the way.

In NEW MEXICO we saw barren thirsty land, a "windmill museum" in some guy's desert ranch front yard, hundreds of black birds on a phone wire, a flock of white herons in a marsh, and we stopped at a branch of our bank in a tiny town only to find out it had closed at 3pm. "It's Monday," the cleaning woman explained. "Oh."

Through the panhandle of TEXAS we saw huge microwave towers with blinking red lights to keep us mesmerized through the dark tired hours. We saw single "blinking" red lights on tall towers and couldn't figure out for the longest time what they were. Finally as we drove up right next to them, we saw that they were giant wind turbines. The blades slowly passing in front of the light made it appear to be blinking.

All through OKLAHOMA I thought of Ree, The Pioneer Woman. At our morning pit stop in Checoteh I observed with an inner grin the locals inside the gas station store. Two old men sitting silently at a round table in the back, drinking their coffee, staring at me as I walked to the restrooms. I felt like they were thinking, "Well, I'll be. A stranger." Then there was the heavily accented woman eating pork rinds (it was 8 a.m. mind you) with her daughters at a table near the cash register, carrying on a seemingly unwanted conversation with another customer and the clerk.

In ARKANSAS we saw mystery lakes with wide based dead trees scattered throughout the waters; white herons in marshes; thick vines growing in roadside trees; bare trees with straggling brown leaves; trees in all stages of transition: some green, some yellow, some brown, the rare red. We also saw flooded farmland with crop rows evident. I think it was the work of a recent hurricane. We saw lots of big hawks perched in roadside trees. And we were tempted to take a detour and visit PIG TRAIL SCENIC BYWAY and PICKLES GAP VILLAGE.

In TENNESSEE we saw more dormant farmland and bare trees. I imagined how beautiful it must be in the spring and summer. I love the names of things in The South. Like, LOOSAHATCHIE RIVER, and plain ole HATCHIE RIVER. (I wonder what "hatchie" means. I'll have to look that up sometime.) There was also MOUSETAIL LANDING, CUBA LANDING, and my personal favorite, the town of BUCKSNORT. Bucksnort, Tennessee. How'd ya like to have to say, "Yeh, I'm from Bucksnort"?

In KENTUCKY we heard our first thick southern accent. It came over the loud speaker at a gas station. It reminded me of that car or tire commercial where the pothole apologizes for flattening a car's tire. So, all during that pit stop we kept saying to each other, "Oh, nooooo! Did I doooo tha-at?", "Cause Ah'm a POT-hhhole," and "Yer tire's all flat 'n' junk." After we got on the road again, we saw beautiful rolling hills that surely would say "Kentucky" if they were green. Or better yet, blue. But alas, they were the lifeless beige of winter.

In INDIANA we drove through beautiful farmland. We saw LOTS of farmland on this trip. It was funny because it seems ALL my postcards from Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, & Minnesota... say something like, "More farmland. Love the wintry corn fields with distant farm houses nestled in a stand of trees." In Indiana we crossed NAMELESS CREEK and COOL CREEK.

We traversed southern OHIO rather quickly seeing a barren tree full of crows, lots of white 2 story farm houses and winter yellow fields. We also crossed MUD CREEK and MAD RIVER as well as passing by PLAIN CITY and MUSKINGUM.

WEST VIRGINIA showed us the narrow two-story houses I mentioned earlier, some of them as close to each other as 3-4 feet. Tattered paint jobs next to new new looking siding and paint. Houses of clapboard, brick, or shingle sided. Blue, yellow, white, green, tan and pink. Dormers and steep peaks, hipped roofs, sandstone, old brick and dirty brick.

When we left WV we again travelled through Ohio and Indiana. Next we came to ILLINOIS where some things of note were watching two Canada geese flying, more farmland, more harvested corn fields and the fact that we could not get any radio station to come in for more than two minutes just barely outside the large town of Peoria. Figure that one out. I liked the name KICKAPOO CREEK and THOUSAND DOLLAR RD. I can relate to that last name; perhaps we should give our "driveway" into our Alaska property some such name.

Next we drove through IOWA where we came across the CEDAR RIVER. Hmmm, I'm thinkin' I've finally figured out where they got the name Cedar Rapids from. And then there was the great town name of WHAT CHEER, IOWA. We loved seeing Christmas lights on the farm houses. There was also STORY CITY. I wonder what it's story is. Then there was the NORTH RACCOON RIVER and the MIDDLE RACCOON RIVER...wonder what happened to the South and the Plain Old Raccoon Rivers. And then we passed the town of EARLHAM. I guess you could take just about any person's name, add "ham" to the end of it and have a town name. I wonder if there's a Bobham or a Mikeham out there somewhere.

In MINNESOTA I saw a great billboard. On the left 3/4 of it, it said "You can't make this stuff up." On the right 1/4 it had a picture of a big can of Spam and underneath it informed us of the exit number for the Spam Museum. Clever of them to make fun of themselves. It got my attention and made me laugh. In Minnesota I noticed a change right away. Suddenly I began seeing windbreaks made of thick spruce trees planted two deep. They stretched on and on; they were really pretty. We were heading into a storm and I noticed how everything looked grey and colorless. Grey skies, grey clouds, grey trees, lifeless dead fields, black earth, grey/black road, white houses with grey roofs, grey aluminum silos. It was very surreal. The occasional color of houses, roofs, or stores hardly registered. The sky, trees, and massive fields seemed to absorb all the color out of anything else, neutralizing it and invalidating it. I just saw varying shades of grey.

We drove through NEBRASKA on our way home. Driving through Omaha I thought of my friend, Pam, who when we were kids used to go visit her grandparents in Omaha a lot. Through Nebraska we saw several flocks of geese flying south. I love seeing geese fly. As for names on signs, it's hard to beat S'BR MIDDLE CREEK. Excuse me? Although...I just realized this could mean something like South Branch of Middle Creek. Who knows!

Next came COLORADO and we felt like we were almost home. We camped on the "home side" of Denver and it was cold, cold, cold. Of all historical van camping experiences, we forgot to check the thermometer to see how cold it was inside the van when we woke up. I think it was our record and we don't have the actual number to cement it in the halls of personal nostalgia. However, the forecast said the low in Denver was going to be 20 degrees that night. We piled on the blankets and I covered my head, and we did fine. We actually quite like sleeping when it's downright cold. As long as I can cover my head, I stay pretty warm. I've figured out that all the nightcaps of Little House on the Prairie days were actually quite practical and functional. Some ski school instructor once told our class that we lose 90% of our body heat through our heads. "So, if your feet are cold," he said, "put a hat on!" A thick piece of store-bought fleece fabric does the trick for me...and I don't wake up with hat hair.

Back through New Mexico, south and then west, through lots of snow covered ground we found ourselves tired and eager to get home. In my journal I noted: "Almost home now. About 3 hours. Being wind tossed on the highway. We feel tired, road weary, beaten up, and travel sore."

We had a really great trip, but by then, we were very glad to get home.

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