alaska.

There was this white, worn ford ranger pick up truck. It drove cautiously. Steadily. Intentionally. It’s driver peering over the steering wheel. I found myself driving behind it for what was easily forty miles, probably more. It was going the speed limit. This truck was going the speed limit, and yet I fell in line, not once looking behind to see if I might pass. Go around. Get by. No, I had no intention of passing this truck.

There was a solace in driving in this manner. In allowing one’s mind to be free in the space of not worrying what will happen next. Will this driver speed up, slow down? Not likely. This driver is maintaining. Going. Plodding.

I was in the middle of a long drive. A drive I was in no rush to finish. I really enjoy driving. I enjoy the long stretches of road when the songs on the radio become a blur of all things country or all things talk, and the best solution to the static mayhem that inevitably happens every twenty minutes or so is to just turn the thing off.

Driving without music.
I never used to understand driving without music.

Growing up we would take road trips, long ones. Florida to Arizona. Florida to North Carolina. Florida to Canada. I would sit shot gun in the family van, my dad driving. That’s where I learned to pop my gum. You know, that ricochet of pop pop pop pop pop pop. That was definitely a learned annoying habit, and I think I finally figured it out somewhere in the middle of Texas, my dad equally laughing and crying that I had, indeed, finally figured it out. I used to tear through packets of Big League Chew. I’d spend hours trying to blow bubbles that would break the Guinness book of world records, because the only goals back then that were worthwhile, were ones that could break whatever record was in that book.

So we would take these road trips. I’d have my gum and my mad libs, the occasional irritated round of I Spy with my brothers, and conversations with my dad. The conversations with my dad would go something like this:

Me: Dad, can we listen to the radio?
Dad: No.

………

Me: Can we listen to the radio now?
Dad: No.

………

Me: What if I just turned it on really low?
Dad: That’s even more aggravating than if it was on all the way. No.

And yet, on shorter road trips we would listen without question, and we’d listen to the oldies station. I know every well-played 50s and 60s song by heart. Occasionally we’d even listen to this cassette with some old guy on front with an enormous bushy grey beard and a twinkle in his eye. No, it wasn’t Santa Claus’ greatest hits, it was some guy who I’d later learn was Kenny Rogers. Those were the days. For those trips we’d take his Corolla, and I’d sit in the backseat, near the window if I was lucky, and when we’d get to the part of the drive where the pavement gave way to gravel then dirt, my brothers and I would take off our seatbelts and we’d giggle and scream as that Corolla hit every bump as my dad drove into them like he was in the Dukes of Hazzard, our heads just shy of hitting the top of the car, and for this one time only we’d fall onto each other without worrying about who was touching who. But that was a short road trip.

So I guess I didn’t really understand why there were times when driving with music made sense and other times, when it just wasn’t even an option.

Until I had kids.
Children.
Small humans.
That make sounds and noises, loudly.
And that talk. And have opinions.
And words.
So many words.

When driving in silence there is somehow an ability to turn the back of the car noise into road noise and, if you’re lucky, it just disappears. Focused on the road, sure. But lost in thought, pure thought.

That’s why I love a good road trip. A long road trip.

And that’s where I was, when I had been traveling for days, alone but with my children, and I found myself behind this white ford ranger pick-up, complete with rust and camper shell, and I was overwhelmed by a sense of safety and a remembrance of someone I had once loved, still love.

The last time I saw a truck like that old ranger I was not driving behind, but sitting behind the wheel. I was probably twelve. I could barely reach the gas, if I had to break I would probably have had to stand straight up. But there I was. Actually driving. Scared out of my mind. My grandpa said, “why not?” He said he was driving by the time he was eight. And he said when he got stopped, he would just say he was ten and he’d be back on his way. I asked him what I should say if we got stopped, and he said, no hesitation, that he’d just tell the officer that my 12 year old eyes were better than his 72 year old eyes and it was clearly a better risk to just let me go ahead and finish the drive and also we’re mostly there anyways. Oh, and twinkle toes (his name for me), don’t forget to smile.

A few years earlier this man, my grandpa, had driven that white ranger from Florida to Alaska. Alone. When I asked him which hotel was his favorite, he just laughed and laughed. When he finally caught his breath, he told me the finest hotel in the world couldn’t beat listening to the crickets and a sleeping bag laid out in the back of his truck.

When he finally made it to Alaska, there was a story about him getting cut off the road and his truck going down the side of a mountain. He was somehow able to climb out the back of the truck and back up the mountain with not much more than some bumps and bruises, on him and the truck.

To me, this man was a super hero.

There have been times when I’ve been scared to drive to a different part of town. There have been times when I have refused to drive because I didn’t know the way, I didn’t have a map, and I didn’t want to try.

There have been times when driving alone, in all that silence, just would not have been ok.

But the thing about my grandpa, when my grandpa wanted to go somewhere, he got in the car and just went.

Anywhere, everywhere. Gone.

The first long road trip I remember taking on my own (and with one small child) was from Florida to Maine. I plotted and charted. I packed blankets and snacks. Overnight bags and car chargers. I made plans with friends, family, all those who I hadn’t seen in years but would take me in, in a heartbeat.

I planned, then I went. I drove. I stopped on my terms. I stopped on the toddler’s terms. But I went.

I was aware, constantly, of being alone.

After two days, however, I found my “I’ve got this” face, and just had fun. I sang, we sang, I ate entire bags of gummy worms, blew through gobs of double bubble, threw disgusting amounts of chicken nuggets to my back seat driver, I missed exits and phone calls, and just drove.

And what a range of feelings this brought.

It reminded me first of the feeling when I was behind the wheel, at 12 years old, the feeling of being overwhelmed with a power of which I wasn’t yet ready, but was offered. Something that someone else recognized I could achieve, accomplish, or at the very least, TRY, even when it hadn’t even occurred to me that it was something I might want to do, love to do.

I had a feeling I could drive forever. Why stop at Maine, why stop at all?

I had a feeling that I wished I had tried this earlier. I wondered if these new acquaintances, these feelings of confidence and self-reliance, might stay for the long haul, and why had it taken so long for us all to meet?

So I drove. First cautiously. Then steadily. And ever so intentionally. And there was a solace in it, in that space of not worrying what might happen down the road or if I missed the next exit. I got lost a couple times, sure, but I was finally right where I needed to be- behind the wheel, listening for the crunch of gravel and the occasional cricket- and finally on the road towards my Alaska.

leaving plants.

I love the smell of Home Depot. Every time I walk in a take a big long, deep breath. Trying, of course, not to appear insane, which is really difficult to do.  I never know where the thing I need is in that store, and that’s okay. I don’t mind. Because it just smells so gooood.  I say “no thanks” to offers of help from the apron people because I like to wander their aisles, pondering the possibility of redoing my mailbox with fancy numbers or wondering if it would be wrong to use an outdoor pillow inside.  I sit on their bench swings and close my eyes for just a moment, maybe two. I wander to the aisle where they have all their products to clean stuff and I stare in amazement while thinking I have probably been cleaning my whole house ineffectively for possibly my whole life.

Once, after just having moved to Maine, I was in Home Depot looking for a new filter for my humidifier. Actually it was for the toddler’s humidifier. I thought there should be a section for it, and I found myself in the de-humidifier area. Commence conversation with Home Depot Apron Guy just trying to help:

Him: So can I help you find something?
Me: Yes, I’ve been looking for a filter for my humidifier.
Him: Oh, well you’re in the right section!
Me: That’s fantastic. So… where are they?
Him: They’re right here. (Looking at me like I’m an idiot.)
Me: That says “DE-humidifier.”
Him: Right.
Me: I want to humidify.
Him: Wait, what?
Me: I want to humidify.
Him: No one humidifies here. Are you new?
Me: Well, yes actually.
Him: Then surely you’re confused. We have the humidity here. We don’t want it.

Cue sneezing, coughing toddler.

Him: OH, you want to humidify him!
Me: (trying to hold back giggles) Yes, and, please.
Him: Yeah we don’t have those here, try Bed, Bath, and Beyond.
Me: Of course.

But the trip was not in vain. It was summer. And summer meant the garden section was in full bloom. As much as I love the general smell of Home Depot, I think I just may love their garden section a bit more. I love the beginnings of their spring and summer when their perennials and hanging baskets overwhelm the aisles and greet me in the parking lot. I love looking at what plants need only 25% shade or which ones do best inside. I inspect the tiny pots of spices- the parsleys, cilantros, and rosemarys- their aromas fill my nostrils and my heart with pure joy.

I want every one of these beautiful plants. I want the flowers. I want the extra soil. I want the gardening gloves and shears. I want the big floppy hat. I want to know what to do with fertilizer and when.

I have to force myself away from this space because this longing for horticulture begins to tear at the edges of my soul.

I don’t know why I insist on visiting my little sanctuary in Home Depot, knowing that I will buy not even one tiny potted plant. I will purchase neither garden hose nor garden troll. I literally go to Home Depot just to stop and smell their silly roses.
And then I cry a little.
I cry because if I buy a plant, I will plant it. I will plant it and water it and love it. I will wait for it to bloom. I will cheer it on as though it’s my full time job. I will pray for it and hope for it.  I will take pictures of it and log it as noteworthy on all social media outlets to which I am a part. I will credit myself- gardener extraordinaire!- when the thing blooms or doesn’t just look completely sick and wretched. I might even name it. That’s not weird, right? Well let’s say I don’t name it, but I consider it mine and I wish it a lifetime full of happiness.

And then, I will have to leave it.

I’ll have to leave it to someone else, or worse, nobody else. Because it can’t come with me, and I must go.

Because this is the life we/I chose. The life of moving. The life of service.  The life of leaving plants.

I just can’t bear to leave any more plants so I just don’t buy them. I don’t have it in me to spend that kind of time. Make that kind of commitment, just knowing that the next person who lives HERE isn’t going to care about my PLANT. They won’t realize that this PLANT was all that I had, that it was the one thing keeping me going while I was waiting. Waiting on a phone call, waiting on the hope of an email, waiting on a letter, waiting for a boat to leave, waiting for a boat to return, waiting for orders, waiting for promotions. In all these years I’ve been keeping dinner waiting, keeping a baby waiting, keeping a toddler waiting, keeping family waiting for news of news, of life, of excitement, of anything that might convince them that yes, I did get married to a person that does exist and that I haven’t been living in an elaborate scheme designed only to get myself a full set of dinnerware and new towels.

After waiting on my person for so long, waiting on a plant seemed predictable and easy. And I need that. I need predictability, reliability. I need to know that something I’ve nurtured is going to be okay and not be relocated or told it’s not good enough or it isn’t working long enough or it didn’t do enough to get the job done. I want my PLANT to know it is good enough just because it is my PLANT and it is there, being beautiful, creating CO2

So I can’t go to Home Depot anymore. But because the universe has a snarky side, I can’t seem to really get away from it. Trees, shrubs, and hanging plants accost me as I make my way to the local warehouse store for my weekly collection of three half gallons of soymilk, two gallons of skim milk, and one gallon of almond milk, amongst of course, other necessary and important warehouse purchases.

I must also endure my neighbor, right across the street, endlessly pruning and planting, collecting and gathering so that her space is a specimen of yard perfection. She seems like such a sweet woman and I want to ask her for advice, but I can’t even walk across the street because my contempt for her safely guarded lilies and violets makes me only want to vomit a little in my mouth.

What once was just a thought, a mere- ‘won’t it be nice when we get out and…’ has become a gut wrenching, heart pounding, nerve wrecking, hamster wheeling, mind exploding heartbeat of ‘I can’t wait to be done with this lifestyle’ melody that repeats over and over like a certain song that never ends.

The root cause of the disintegration of my little world actually has roots.

And I want them too.
And I want them now.
And I’ll take an Oompa-Loompa and a Golden Egg while you’re at it.