After Christmas, when the rainy cold winter makes itself known, Dan and I often become gypsies. We take our colorful caravan (RV), hook up our trusty steed (Toyota Tundra), and step out into the world. We might have a plan, we might not; both ideas have merit. No plan and a plan can both end in beautiful, undiscovered places, or campgrounds of dubious worth.
Traveling while pulling a 5,000-pound camper has advantages; you know who slept in your bed last night, and you never leave your most precious thing in the motel room. Traveling in a car has the advantage of relieving you of the consequences of reckless drivers causing the camper driver to execute frantic stops which result in the camper imitating the old saying of the tail wagging the dog.
Whichever way you travel, the landscape outside your window changes. This trip we’ve seen a huge brahma bull, snow geese rising in clouds above rice fields, and the mighty Mississippi River’s levels dropped so low due to drought that you can see those tricky sandbars Mark Twain was so fond of describing. Flat land, hilly land, enormous bare rock mountains; all are interesting landscapes so different from our friendly, gentle Tennessee Smoky Mountains.
Our travels always teach us something. We spent one night in Piney Bluffs, Arkansas, hometown of Martha Mitchell, a name from the past that I googled, bringing back memories of the Watergate debacle. Refreshing my memory of Watergate perversely made me feel better about our off-the-rails country. We’ve gone off the rails before and recovered. Perhaps there’s hope we can do that again.
If you’re a talkative person, which husband Dan and I most definitely are, you can meet some interesting folks. In Arkansas, while standing in a long line waiting for my coffee order to come up, I became acquainted with a tiny shivering woman who, on that cold, windy day, chose to wear spandex capri pants, tennis shoes with no socks, a huge puff jacket, and a wool cap with pull down earmuffs. Learning that Dan and I were traveling, the woman said, “I love to travel! I once went all the way to Alabama. I went because there’s a restaurant there run by a very famous chef who will make for you anything you request. I dearly love chitlins and don’t you know he’d just cooked a whole pan of it?”
A lunch stop at the only sit-down restaurant in a tiny Texas town found Dan and I as the sole people who weren’t hunters and who didn’t know every single person in the place. Our meal was brought by a tall, shy boy who walked like a newborn colt who discovers he has long legs to operate. He brought back memories of when our youngest son got his growth – what to do with all these arms and legs?
When Wordsworth’s depressing poem “The World Is Too Much with Us” starts to ring in my head, when I start to dread 2024 when the news will be full of political shenanigans; getting out, seeing new things, having conversations with others, gives me hope. Rainy, snowy days might be ahead, horrible news is undoubtedly on the horizon, but we’re all still here. As my grandmother used to say, quoting Scottish novelist John Buchan, “It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.”
Here’s to experiences to help us survive, help us thrive, give us joy so we don’t weaken. Happy New Year everybody.
Cindy Arp, teacher/librarian, retired from Knox County Schools. She and husband Dan live in Heiskell.