William Stafford once said that we are defined more by the detours and distractions in life than by the narrow road toward goals: "It's not so much getting lost as it is getting found. . ."
I like this image. But then I am a highly distractable person. Oh I get things done and have goals like everybody else. But it’s the crazy asides in a day and the mazes in a strong idea that lead me to fruitful territory. Like a good road trip.
Ah, road trips! Let's talk about road trips. For this family of mine, a good road trip is one long and lazy detour after another--a saunter down back roads that eventually lead to the final destination. The lid is off time. Beyond every curve there are possibilities. A stop in the desert turns up a rattlesnake skin. The glimpse of a slow moving river on a summer day leads to a swimming hole. We stop at barn sales, inspect road kill, we buy the world's juiciest peaches and a real tomato at local fruit stands. We listen, riveted, to Greek myths that make the miles fly by. And because we are in no hurry, we talk. We talk about our dreams, the best meal we ever ate, and (this is our favorite) I offer abridged oral versions of the latest book I am reading. One memorable road trip it was Smilla's Sense of Snow, a gripping story the kids sat keen and wide eyed through--for miles and miles and miles.
It wasn't always this way for us. We discovered the lush side of road trips quite by accident--by detour you could say.
My family lives in Idaho, and for years I made the nine hour Seattle to Boise drive like most people: the fastest, shortest, easiest route possible. Especially if my husband couldn't join us and it was just me. Me and four noisy, restless, lively kids who hate confinement and have strong opinions about everything. Road trips felt risky. I drove fast. Stopped only when I had to. I disciplined with my eyes on the road and my arm stretched and waving into the back reaches of the car like a crazy conductor. We stuck to the freeways and ate at MacDonald's. Road trips made us wish for anywhere but here. We counted the hours and miles like prisoners and arrived tired and cranky and all kinked up inside. Then Banner was born.
Banner was our sheep, our baby really--we raised him from birth. He was born and rejected by his mama days before a planned road trip to Boise. I had two choices. Leave the lamb with my husband who could take him to the office and feed him every two hours with a lamb's special strong smelling formula, then wake to feed him through the night, and remember to change the diapers he wore so he wouldn't poop all over the house ("What's the big deal Greg? They're disposables. Just be sure to cut a hole for his tail or you'll have a mess!") Or I could take Banner to Boise. Greg made the decision for us.
And that is how I found myself on the road with four kids, a baby lamb, five bikes and nothing but my eternal optimism and a baby tote full of formula and diapers to see us through this crazy detour. We took the back roads to Boise out of sheer necessity. I had to stop every hour and let Banner skitter and shake out his long wobbly legs. The kids chased him, chased one another, then climbed back into the car smelling fresh and breathless with the cold air and exercise.
On that road trip we began to think ourselves weird in a wonderful sort of way. While the world was whizzing by, we were not. Family legends were born--"What Christly kinda dog is that?" an elderly woman in Umatilla asked us--to be retold for years ever after. We stopped to eat in local cafes because MacDonald's are few and far between on the back roads. Instead of pushing through to Boise in one shot like always, we stayed in a small motel in Baker. This led to a long walk in the morning where we discovered a local diner that served up the best most tender and fragrant cinnamon rolls we ever ate. We explored gravel side roads off of side roads out of sheer surrender to a less than speedy trip. Even if we simply looked out the car windows at clothes flapping on a line, or baby pigs waddling after their mother or the rise of a trout on an elbow of creek, it was better than the fastest ride down the freeway. Here was life, fresh horizons, an awakening to a way of the journey I had only imagined was possible.
We eventually arrived at my parents’ doorstep astonishingly fresh and full of stories. I figured it had taken us an extra five hours in the car. Five hours that had given us a bank of memories-- the tender taste of a good cinnamon roll, grasshopper catching in waist high weeds (and exploring the science in the burrs pulled off socks afterwards), in the miles figuring out what the word Christly meant.
I grew brave with this venture. I grew a little giddy. On the way home I looped through Idaho's panhandle to visit my grandmother. We paused at a hot spring I had raced past heedlessly for years (Zim's. Just outside of McCall. A remarkable, utterly restorative stop that bent all road trips of the future to include any hot spring remotely close to our wayward path).
I grew creative with my discipline. On an empty stretch of side road in Eastern Washington everyone started to bicker. I stopped and ordered all kids, lambs, and yahoos out of the car. I drove a half mile ahead, parked on the side and read my book in sweet silence. It was a 20 minute body and soul stop.
Road trips changed forever after Banner was born. It opened our eyes to a world available to anyone reckless enough to idle and detour, wild enough to race through a wheat field at dusk, or eat at a diner instead of a drive through. Can you stop at a river because your toes are hot and the water is cold? Can the world wait while you pull over and read the historical markers with your children and imagine for one brief moment the courage and grit it took to survive a hundred years ago? Are you willing to trade time for a detour that may uncover the best part of a journey, the best part of yourself? It took a tiny black lamb to make me realize the answer is yes and yes and yes. Some road trips are by necessity fast and straight. The best ones, the ones that stay with you long after the journey is over, are the road trips where we surrender the freeway for the side way to possibilities.