Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Modern Pilgrimage

As you can surmise from my last posting, Jeff and I have left Boston. After years of procrastination, worry, and dreaming, we are finally taking our relationship with the city of Seattle to a new level. We dare to believe, you see, that this lovely, quirky city ruled by mountains and sea will eventually become a place that we can call 'home' in all senses of the word. This is the first time that either of us has chosen a place to live- not for school, not for work, not for family, but simply for pleasure. Its an exciting choice to make but it carries many burdens. We are both further away from friends and family than we have ever been-even phone calls require more thought because of the three hour difference from the East Coast. And we have to start our lives over again in may ways, which is terrifying....but also liberating.

We have been here for about two weeks now, having left Boston on May 21st, and what a long and strange trip it was to get here. (Please excuse the haphazard nature of this post....its not an easy thing to tidy the experiences of several weeks into a few neat paragraphs.) We somehow condensed all of our possessions into two 5x7x8 crates (its frightening to see your entire household fit into two flimsy wooden boxes and equally disturbing to see just how much random stuff two people can accumulate in 8 plus years) and had them shipped on ahead of us to Seattle. We put our very angry cat into another crate (dont worry, this one was designed for animals) and waved goodbye to him at the airport. It was strange to think of so many details of our lives arriving before us, but I guess the thought was that our new world could start to take shape ahead of us and all we would have to do was show up.

We then embarked on what I can only call a modern pilgrimage. Ten days of driving, from coast to coast, across a portion of the United States that was entirely a blank for me before this. We decided to drive instead of flying for practical reasons (we needed some way to get our car to Seattle) but also because we had never done the fabled 'cross country road trip' before and we felt that a more gradual transition from one city to the next would make the change less painful. It is true that the lengthy trip made adjustment easier on some level...after just a few long days on the road we began to feel like gypsys, with no past, no future, just an endless present, and with no goals except to drive, always keep driving, mile after mile. Our usual comforts were stripped away and all of our desires regressed (or evolved?) to basics: sleep, food, gas, beer, coffee. And strangely, we were never lonely. Our trip was an instant conversation starter and we found ourselves chatting with locals all across the country. Our city aversion to conversation with strangers was soon eradicated and we found friends in the most unexpected places.

And the land....oh the land. I hate to sound so tritely patriotic, but somewhere along the way I fell in love with America. Such rugged beauty, such timelessness and all there, right under my nose. In the mornings I witnessed the gentle mating of earth and sky as clouds embraced the mountain tops, and at night the sky became our theater; a bowl of stars upended over the road. I watched the colors of the land change from the vibrant spring greens and yellows of New England to the watercolor tints of the Midwest: subdued ocher and russet cliffs, pale gold and sage green fields, and milky aquamarine rivers. In cattle country where the soil was rocky and dry and the hills were wild, I saw the importance of the overstated ranch gates, how they stood like symbolic shinto thresholds, keeping out the chaos of the wilderness and demarcating the human cosmos within. In the mountains I saw burn zones, where incinerated pine trees stood like strokes of charcoal against rocks coated in brilliant orange lichen. Later, I watched as those jagged peaks transformed into gentler hills; bunched folds of green velvet along lazy rivers. I saw endless fields of glistening obsidian, where a 2000 year old volcano had erupted, and I faced my own fear to explore the caves that lava flows had carved.

Most importantly, I saw a bit of the essential difference between the East and the West. In the East, everywhere you see the mark of man's hand and the passage of human time: how cities were birthed and evolved, how industry subdued the land, how paths became roads. The countryside is familiar, gentle, and nonthreatening. In the West, the cities are fewer and farther between and everywhere you see the mark of Nature's hand and nature's history; how ancient rivers carved valleys, how the earth heaved up and became mountains. The West has a terrible beauty; it makes you feel small and powerless, but somehow it also makes you feel whole, makes you realize that you cannot exist independently of the natural world that birthed you.

So I guess this trip was not an ordeal, it was a learning experience. And all poetic appreciation aside, here are some of the concrete lessons that I learned:

1. Coastal cities are not the only depositories of culture in the United States.
2. People are the same everywhere...but they seem to get friendlier that farther you travel from the East Coast.
3. Coffee in the morning makes everything okay
4. Laptops and GPSs are not examples of evil technology, on the road, they are your best friends.
5. The purest things I have ever seen are the roadside signs that read simply: Beer Gas Food. Thats the holy trinity on a road trip man, thats all you need to feel human.
6. No matter how intellectual you think you are, after six straight hours or driving, all conversation will regress to baby talk and belligerent babbling.
7. A bull Bison can and will fuck you up if you mess with him
8. Chicago has the best Mexican food
9. Beer can be used as a bartering tool
10. Home is not a fancy house with a picket fence, it is wherever you can put down your bags and lay your head at night next to the person you love.

We're here Seattle, are you ready for us? Are we ready for you?....

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