Early yesterday morning I took a habitual visit to our apartment’s outdoor patio—leaving the protective cocoon of central air—and waded into 90+ degrees of steamy Central Texas heat and humidity, like getting wrapped in an unwanted hug from a sweaty neighbor who has been working in the yard all day.
In late October 1805, Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and the Corps of Discovery Expedition reached the Columbia River, the mighty waterway separating present-day Oregon and Washington. With canoes obtained by trading with local Native Americans, the explorers forged westward through the Columbia River Gorge, mapping the river’s treacherous falls and chutes on their way toward the Pacific Ocean.
Similarly, in mid-June 2016, my wife, Megan, and I discovered the Columbia River. With a 2014 Chevy Sonic obtained from Hertz at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, we forged eastward through the Gorge, stopping only to snap the photograph above and stand in some dog mess on our way toward the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.
NH-137—the winding, two-lane road that leads northward to Hancock, New Hampshire—tunnels through thick New England forests and circles the banks of many small ponds overgrown with lily pads and other water-bound foliage. Two-hundred-year-old wooden farm houses hide behind the trunks and branches of the first few layers of trees, and knee-high mossy stone walls trace the road on both sides—endlessly, it seems—marking the boundary between passersby and nature; a boundary put in place hundreds of years ago. The road weaves up, down, around, next to pastures and streams, past trail heads and historical markers, and occasionally across the path of some brave woodland creature. It’s hard to escape the feeling that the charming scenery of rural southern New Hampshire has remained exactly this way for a very, very long time.
The Frio River in southwest Texas is, presumably, a river that exists solely to be floated by people. It isn’t remotely large enough for any kind of motorized boat. Its shallow waters don’t offer much in the way of fish larger than your forearm. Its banks don’t serve as the boundaries of neighboring cities or states. Perhaps the water is safe enough to drink, but I wouldn’t be the first to try. Its only purpose, as far as one can tell, is to offer human visitors a leisurely, sun-soaked float from one ranch road low water crossing to another. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
If you ever happen to find yourself leaving Grand Central Station on a northbound Metro-North train some sunny, summer Saturday morning, you may notice after 90 minutes of smoothly gliding through the Hudson River Valley, the train comes to an unexpected stop. There aren’t really any signs to indicate where you’ve stopped. No one appears to be getting on board. There’s a small wooden platform up ahead, but certainly no train station here. About then you start to think, maybe the train ran out of gas. Wait, do trains run on gas? Or is it coal? Do they still shovel coal into a furnace? Surely they’ve figured out a different way to do it by now. Maybe solar? How have I made it this far in my life without knowing how trains work?
Many people, at one point or another, move away from their hometown. Even if only briefly. If they don’t, they certainly have a close friend or family member who will. And when you move to a new town, the change of scenery inevitably changes you in a number of ways, for better or worse, as you adopt some of the characteristics of your new city.
Maybe you get a job in San Diego and suddenly you’re working with a year-round tan. Or perhaps you go to college in Boston and find yourself rooting for the Sox. Maybe you move to Portland and become that guy who tells your friends back home, “Craft beer is kind of my thing now.” Or maybe you move to one of the Carolinas and get eaten by a shark. At age 26, one of my favorite authors, Bill Bryson, moved to the UK to live with his wife. When they returned to the states after nearly 20 years, he noticed he had developed a slight British accent. And he’s from Iowa. These things happen.
More often than not when you plan a trip, you do so around a destination that really excites you. You and your travel partner will have conversations like, “Are you thinking beach or mountains or city? Have you ever been to Mexico? Ugh, think about the food. Check out this resort I found, they have free scuba lessons. My co-worker Erin just went scuba diving and she said… you remember Erin. Yes you do. She’s tall? Came to Jeff’s housewarming? Walks her dog in a stroller? Yeah, Erin. Anyway, oooooh, what about Europe?!”
There are very few cities that can inspire and intrigue with their name alone quite like Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. Imagine you knew nothing about the following towns; how would you respond to an invitation to visit?
“Nah, I’m good.”
“You know, I totally would but I have to help a friend move that weekend, I think.”
“Sorry, can’t. I don’t know why but that sounds awful.”
“Never heard of it, but I’M LISTENING…”
Theodore Roosevelt was the greatest president in American history.
Oooookay, hold the phone. What about that guy named George who defeated the British and fathered the country? Or how about Abraham, the president who abolished slavery? And don’t forget that Taft fellow. Didn’t he get so obese that extra large specialty bath tubs had to be installed in the White House so he wouldn’t get stuck?
Fair enough. All good points and all equally impressive accomplishments. Was Teddy really the best leader we’ve ever had? I don’t know, I wasn’t there. But neither were you, so indulge me while I offer a few of the highlights.
For reasons I can’t really explain, whenever I’m asked to name my favorite movie, the first one that always comes to mind is Sideways. I’m an admitted sucker for road movies, but this particular story is about two exceptionally unhappy middle-aged men who spend a lot of time lounging around and chatting about wine. In 2004 when it first hit theaters, I had never even tasted wine—much less developed an affinity for it—and, to my knowledge, was not a crabby middle-aged man. So it’s a little surprising that Miles and Jack’s wine country adventures have stuck with me for so long.