Travel plans blossom suddenly like roses as summer nears. Maybe a camping expedition to the lake come Memorial Day, just a warm up exercise. A national park after that. If the imagination is permitted free rein, soon enough you’ll be checking airfares promising to take you to exotic locations. Italian villas. Hawaiian beaches. The Alaskan wilderness.
But if memory serves, air travel aboard commercial airlines will have left the sour taste in your brain, a bitterness associated with security screening, leg room, body odor, or lost luggage. Even the slightly fishy aroma of a meal advertised as turkey tetrazzini.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge coined the phrase, “a willing suspension of disbelief.” In literature the phrase refers to abandoning common sense to believe in and enjoy a fictional storyline. Every time I break down and purchase an airline ticket, I think of old Coleridge and wonder if he knew how desperate people become after being cooped up for an entire winter.
There is, however, a more sensible approach to travel, especially if your travel budget is getting crappy mileage.
In libraries all across America, people occupy chairs, researching and reading. So far as I know no librarian has ever dragged a patron down the aisle between bookshelves and tossed the uncooperative lout out the door just for moving his lips while reading.
Books are like that. The printed word functions as an economy vehicle to escape this field of gravity, to transport you a different location. Let the airlines fend for themselves.
In 1978 William Least Heat-Moon, after a series of personal misfortunes and setbacks, headed out on an actual three-month journey in his van along what he then referred to as “blue highways.” His 1982 classic, a thick 448-page travel book, eloquently describes his encounters on a latticework of our rural American backroads.
Not everyone has three months to travel, let alone a healthy chunk of time to read that many pages, which is why I want to mention a man I’ve never met, but one I’ve taken along with me on more than a few road trips.
Almost 35 years ago, according to his website, Peter Anderson took a job writing for a small-town daily newspaper just east of the Continental Divide. He currently lives in Crestone, Colo., “an eccentric mountain town full of spiritual seekers, old hippies and neo-rastafarians, Buddhist monks, modem cowboys, retired bikers, former executives turned poets, ranchers, philosopher-plumbers, green-leaning realtors, artists, writers, and musicians. He loves the San Luis Valley as well as the Sangre de Cristo and San Juan Mountains that shape it.”
His latest offering maps a great expedition in just 84 pages, prose with the power of poetry, fueled by humor, insight, and a passionate understanding of life in the American West.
Heading Home: Field Notes (Conundrum Press, 2017) starts by invoking the spirit of Jack Kerouac. Then Anderson takes the wheel, meditates on every curve in the road, draws the scenery into focus by displaying it like postcards from the soul. Personal points of interest. Characters living within a landscape we call the American Southwest. Backbumper Gospels. A journey — some of it interior — conserving all that fuel that might have been burned up zig-zagging across a literal topography of space and time.
“I’ve been driving a big circle —” the author writes, “Colorado through red-rock country, home along the Arizona Strip, now across the rez to the San Juans.” At an early rest stop in Kayenta, Ariz., Anderson introduces us to a high-octane road companion, a cup of Nava- Joe, but not without offering us a page which contains the Navajo barista’s perspective on the Bible as translated by his people’s traditional sheepherding.
Another road attraction arrives with economy. A total of 156 words draws you to the edge of an abandoned iron mine, waiting, until thousands of bats emerge. It’s also the night that emerges, “a vast, whirling column,” a chilling vision because “Now you know where the night comes from.”
Habitation (Part III) embraces a seasonal cycle, a Sand County Almanac for the American Southwest. There’s a calendar inside this book.
Heading Home takes us through “The Big Empty,” and then exits where the Nowhere Cafe remains nestled in “the glow of a small town over the rise.” No matter what rutted road receives his attention, the author locates no cafe. Only a dying town. An emptiness that longs to be filled.
“… And you say the only words you have left to say: Empty me . . . that I might be whole again.”
Heading Home is a trip worth taking.
David Feela, an award-winning poet, essayist, and author, writes from Cortez, Colo. See his works at http://feelasophy.weebly.com/.