Most of September we were away from home. And away from writing, except for a week in Montana. That week was spent with family, but most of each day, as others did what they had to do, I was able to work on a long story that has been building for a long time. I think I have what I wanted now. But that was the extent of my writing. Instead, we saw some new places, discovered new things to photograph, and in general had a long and interesting road trip.
We returned last week, fully ready to resume our routine lives, but with new memories and new pictures and new stories. But it isn’t easy, this being away from routine and what passes for "normal" living. Old habits get short-changed, to say the least, when one travels far away. And this time it was far: over 6-thousand miles. But I’m glad we did. We saw family at an important time, and we saw parts of our country we had not seen before, and the Canadian Rockies, a part of the continent we had never visited. We were away for three weeks, but most of the miles were traveled in the four days going out, and in five days coming back. When the speed limit is 80 miles-an-hour, 700 miles a day is easy.
When we travel, I try as much as I can to stick to some routine activities. I like to begin my day walking around our fields or up on the rocky ridges that mark our east and west lines. With the two big dogs for company, and sometimes accompanied by others (people and dogs) the walk sets me up for the day. When we’re on the road however, that isn’t always an option. Especially when there are "miles to go before I sleep." In Montana, staying with family for a bit more than a week, I was able to get out early every morning and refresh my knowledge of the local neighborhood.
The first morning I walked several blocks east, then south, then west and north and back to the house. It was good to be out, walking and feeling the air on my skin, rather than the "conditioned" air of the car. It wasn’t like walking with the dogs, of course; I was without my companions, and I was walking on concrete, not rocky paths and grass. I was back in the house before I remembered my morning walks the last time we were in Montana five years ago. The house is a block away from a river, and the city has created wonderful hiking and biking trails with bridges to make the crossing. For the next seven days, as the sun rose, I walked along the river or in the park on the other side of it, and my days began on a much better footing (if you’ll pardon the pun).
Usually when we are at home, I write in the morning and work outside, or at least on things related to outside, in the afternoon. For most of the time we were in the city, I spent the whole day writing. Evenings were spent with family and, after everyone else had gone to bed, reading.
After seven days in Montana we were ready to head home. Not directly, of course. As we do on road trips, we allowed time for excursions along the way. We don’t particularly plan for them, but let our interests dictate whatever off-course adventures we may find. On this trip, on the way west we visited a museum and school that serves the Lakota nation. We also drove up Mount Rushmore as we passed through Wyoming, and at least tipped our hats to other attractions we could visit briefly as we made out way.
When we began our return trip, we headed first north, passing Blackfoot Lake and Glacier National Park; both places we knew from previous travel. Our goal this time was to drive in the Canadian Rockies, especially the area in Alberta that encompasses Banff and Lake Louise. We spent a couple of nights in a little town called Dead Man’s Flats, visited both Banff and Lake Louise, and saw more spectacular scenery than we had ever seen in the Swiss Alps, our own Grand Canyon or other parts of the Southwest. And then we headed home. We modified our course after we discovered that Medicine Hat was no longer just a town with an interesting name, but rather a spread-out city of heavy traffic, and decided that Moose Jaw would probably be no better. We headed back home, instead.
In five days we were unloading and unpacking, getting reacquainted with Teddy and Buddy and Louie, and discovering again the pleasure of walking in the woods and around the fields.
Back at my own desk, sorting through notes made while sitting in the passenger seat or in the time between arriving at a motel and leaving early the next morning, I realized how much I had put aside in the three weeks we were away. Notes on possible essays take up several pages in my pocket notebook, and are now a four-page document filed in this computer. I have a lot to write about, many things learned or simply observed as we drove and drove and drove on. And I also discovered how difficult it is to get back in the habit of writing every day.
Once one breaks a routine, it seems, it is not easy to pick it up again. It isn’t that I’m tired, or that my thoughts are disorganized (any more than usual). It is simply that writing, for all that I love it and am driven by it, is work. Hard work some days. It is work I love, this committing writing, but it is work. I’ve struggled for several days with this essay not because I had nothing I wanted to write about, but because I just had gotten out of the habit; stopped writing as part of my daily routine. I hadn’t realized that a habit could be so easily put aside.
I have written this essay more times than anything I’ve written in years. But suddenly, about midnight, it started to make sense (at least to me). What I wanted to say eluded me for days. I wrote about were we were, things we saw, people we met, but what I really wanted to say, to write about, was writing. In the coming weeks, I will try to work out some of the thoughts I added to my notebook related to travel, the country, the people we met and the things we saw.
For today, however, I’m just happy to be writing again.