“The future stands still, but we move in infinite space.” – Rainier Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, letter #8
The road is the road is the road. No matter how many stops you make, or how many miles you make it before you stop. No matter how much you love road trips, or how intolerable you find them, the distance remains the same. When determined to get to St. Augustine Florida, the irrefutable reality of those miles remains the same.
What changes is our experience. I’ve been traveling the I-75 corridor to Florida my whole life long. My first trip was in utero, and it has been a rare year since then that I have not made that passage. I anticipate the beauty of the Sequatchie Valley, the long winding road, the waterfalls and dripping rock cuts on the way to Chattanooga. In Georgia, I watch the soil turn from red to orange to sand, and listen to changing accents in the voices of people in gas stations and rest areas.
I remember riding in the back seat as a child, on the way down to the Tampa Bay area for a Christmas vacation that seemed to last in a forever zone of grandparents and fresh orange juice. We would leave the Tennessee woods, leafless, and cold. In those innocent days before children were strapped into car seats upright, I would stretch out, thrilling to touch my toes to the cold window all the way across the back seat. Falling asleep to the vibration of the road beneath me, I would wake with the sun on my face, to the sight of Spanish Moss hanging from the trees, south of the Georgia border once again.
Certain exit numbers jog the memories of college days. Endless energy for exploration, for the road. We would gather a carload of people and go home for a weekend, driving the twelve or thirteen hours like it was no time at all. On warm nights when no one could sleep, we might leave Sarasota in the darkest hours to trek across the state and watch the sun rise on the east coast. I remember vividly friends I haven’t seen in decades, all because of this road, this landscape that whips by at 70 mph.
And now, I’m adding memories with my husband, and our children. The first time we visited my folks’ condo in St. Augustine, we only had one child, and i remember how she thrilled at her first beach siting. She raced and rolled in the sand. This time, there were two of them, doing much the same thing. The air and water were a little too cold for swimming in earnest, but a little splashing, a lot of running, and some very good sand construction projects were in order, not to mention the joy of feeding gulls some stale bread. Simple pleasures are the ones that stick in the mind.
So, as I form more and new experiences, make more memories here in middle-adulthood, I can also watch my children as they begin to make their own memories. Just as my parents are present in my early recollections, I will be present in theirs, sharing this landscape, again. There’s something so right, and also so sweet, about that.
Life is like a layer cake, or maybe some kind of dense pie. Year after year, we add layers. Nothing goes away. We can cut a slice and taste those memories, soak in the present, and know this moment will be added to those layers of memory. Each of us adds our own flavor, color, with our thoughts and emotions, to each flake of experience we store. Whether we think the road is too long, or too short, it’s up to us to make the trip worthwhile.