My sense of direction is, at best, poor. In spite of that, I love a road trip. With the advent of affordable GPS (Global Positioning System) devices, driving long distances has become easier. Unfortunately, that tool (GPS) is not always reliable. Sometimes I get lost. I have a hard time figuring out how to get back on track. Like Blanche DuBois in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” I’m forced at times to depend on the “kindness of strangers.” Getting lost, though, becomes part of my road trip adventure.
I recently drove (for the third time) from Richmond, Virginia, to Las Cruces, New Mexico. I’ve chosen a different route each time. On this trip, I kept the mileage under 400 miles/day. That gave me time to look around the places I stopped for the night. This trip wasn’t nearly as taxing as those where I pushed to cover as much ground as possible in a day. I also made it a point to stay out of Texas due to the state’s high COVID-19 numbers and that added a couple of hundred miles to the drive.
But, there’s just something exciting and satisfying about sitting behind the steering wheel of my car and driving on the open road. I took this picture on the last day of my recent journey, 300 miles after I crossed into New Mexico from Colorado. I like the sense of possibility it reflects. What’s just over the rise?
Rest stop in Polvadera, New Mexico.
Finding restaurants along the road can be challenging, but fun. I like the element of surprise. This place is Calamity J Grill and Bar in Huntington, West Virginia, my first overnight stop. Throughout my trip, I looked specifically for eating establishments that advertised outdoor seating. Had an interesting mural to look at here while taking in some refreshment and sustenance.
This is a scene from somewhere in southern Indiana. If there was opportunity to hop on a two-lane road heading west, I did. I pulled over at this green spot on some country lane for an afternoon snack before getting back on the interstate highway.
Something about the barbed wire, big sky, field, and farmhouse in the distance makes this seem to me like a quintessential Kansas landscape. It took a long time to drive across the state and the scenery didn’t change a whole lot as the miles clipped by.
This is Trinidad, Colorado—a small, quaint town on the border with New Mexico. Cannabis shops have popped up all over Colorado since the state made marijuana usage legal. Trinidad has a goodly number of these stores. Prices are cheaper than what I understand one pays for the product when buying the substance surreptitiously.
This is the front of my house in Las Cruces, New Mexico. It was a welcome sight after six days and five nights on the road.
This past year, beginning with my back surgery in July 2019, has been particularly stressful. Even after assiduously following a physical therapy routine, I have some leftover effects from the surgery. I hobbled, with the help of a cane, back to my teaching responsibilities in the Fall (2019) and coughed my way through the semester. My doctor prescribed an array of medicines, however, nothing helped except the passage of time. Soon thereafter, all of us were isolating when COVID-19 arrived our way mid-way through Spring semester (2020).
In addition, I moved three miles down the road to a condominium in Richmond, Va., in June (2020) and put the old house on the market. Thankfully, it sold quickly. I did an inordinate amount of cleaning, scrubbing, hoisting, lifting, and sorting in both residences.
The pandemic thwarted my plans to continue teaching. I like classroom interaction and had no guarantee a face-to-face classroom modality would continue throughout the Fall semester (2020). Our faculty was advised to be ready at the drop of a hat to teach exclusively online. I opted out. To top things off, my friend of thirty years retired in August and moved to Florida.
Where am I going? My sense of direction is, at best, poor. My life feels as though the tectonic plates that girded up my days are continuously shifting. What’s given my life direction and meaning for years is gone. I feel lost, trying to make my way in a new landscape with a malfunctioning GPS. Like Blanche DuBois, perhaps I’ll stumble upon kindness from strangers. Ultimately, I don’t want to just exist. I want to thrive.
I’ve learned over the years that change is the one thing in life we can count on. Nothing ever stays the same. Do we get so focused on the way we are in a particular time and place and forge a fixed identity for ourselves that we forget about the transformative possibilities available to us through other experiences? Our self, our identity, and certainly our material possessions are transient. We are continuously in a state of becoming. Living things grow old and die. I’m beginning to see how equanimity flows from a mindset that embraces things as they are. I’d like to see more clearly.
So these days, filled as they are with upheaval and disruption for all of us, I follow the road in front of me as best I can. I clean my house. I shop for groceries. I pull weeds in the yard. I read. I go for walks. After a hiatus of thirty years, I’ve taken up the art of embroidery again. I also enjoy “happy hour” in the late afternoon on my daughter and son-in-law’s patio (two doors down from me) while watching the birds of New Mexico eat and drink from feeders.
I keep moving. I’m eager to see what’s just over the rise….
Esther Nelson is a registered nurse who worked for several years in Obstetrics and Psychiatry, but not simultaneously. She returned to school (Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia) when her children were in college and liked it well enough to stay on as an adjunct professor. For twenty-two years, she taught courses on Human Spirituality, Global Ethics, Christian-Muslim Relations, Women in the Abrahamic Faiths, and Women in Islam. She is the co-author (with Nasr Abu Zaid) of Voice of An Exile: Reflections on Islam and the co-author (with Kristen Swenson) of What is Religious Studies? : A Journey of Inquiry. She recently stepped away from teaching and now splits her time between New Mexico and Virginia.