Our first cruising season took us thousands of miles away from the United States physically. We traveled an equal or greater distance intellectually and emotionally as we tuned in to the daily cruisers’ radio net for weather and the fleet’s comings and goings rather than the nightly news. Our return to the States and road trip immersed us in our country’s here-and-now and steeped us in its rich and complex natural and cultural history. While we did not go looking for America, we would have been asleep had we found nothing.
Among our new found appreciation, is our country’s scale. Size may or not matter in some things, but our country’s vastness, as experienced from our car, impressed us. For example, a straight flat road, with hardly a turn or climb characterized our long day’s drive across South Dakota’s Great Plains.
Within this vast space, are both subtle and dramatic differences. Western rangelands morph almost seamlessly into Midwestern farmland. Dairy herds, rather than cattle, marked the transition on relatively similar landscapes. In contrast, the Rockies boldly heralded our entrance from Texas’ southern plains into Colorado. Canyonlands’ eye-popping spires uniquely mark the Four Corners territory.
Cultural distinctions are also both subtle and stark. Tennessee, Arkansas, and Texas all boast their own variation on the barbecue theme. Eric vows to someday return to sample them all. None of these distinct flavors are anything like chowder (whether of the New York or Boston variety). On a more somber note, each region has its own variation of the Native American displacement story. The Little Bighorn, Andrew Jackson’s Trail of Tears, and the Taos and Santa Fe pueblos each remind us that the peoples’ occupation of this land can change dramatically.
If our country’s spacial metric has new meaning, so too does our appreciation of time as a way to evaluate our current circumstances. Twenty minutes from Los Alamos (the bomb’s home) we looked over the Valles Caldera, created millions of years ago by a volcano with the power of hundreds of thousands of the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The eruption deposited soft sediment called tuff that later provided the base from which the Ancient Pueblo carved dwellings and built their civilization. Whether we see the volcano as destructive or creative depends entirely on what time frame we use.
So, we leave our home country for points south with renewed appreciation and deeper understanding. We also bring with us new tools for considering the countries, landscapes and cultures we will encounter during our second cruising season.