“I’ve never seen anything like this,” I said for perhaps the one hundredth time. “Have you?” I asked the fellow in the seat beside me. “Hmm? Oh, yeah, I’ve been here before,” he replied. I had not, as this was my first time on the other side of the country, and I stared out the window fascinated by this land that was two thousand miles away from my home.
Our conversation fell away, and we continued on in the comfortable silence that develops when you have been staring down the black pavement of the highway for the better part of a day. I stared out the window some more. The hills were more like ripples than small mountains and seemed to undulate before more very eyes. So these were the amber waves of grain that Katherine Lee Bates had us singing about in elementary school music class.
The two of us headed down the road, virtual strangers who only knew each other’s name and where the other was from. The rest of our party was caravanning alongside, headed to a house in the middle of a city I had never been to before and knew little more about than the correct pronunciation of its name. We were going there to work, volunteer, to live in community, to do the sort of thing done by good-hearted college graduates with wanderlust facing an economy that doesn’t want to hire them. Some of us were there for a carefully planned gap year before pursuing career and academic achievements. And then there was me, who just wanted to move across the country. Me, who just wanted to move.
The heat of the summer was too much for the hills that we drove past. I would realize, years later, that the inland northwest does not stay green for as long as my eastern mountains did. They seem to bloom and shrivel up in the same month, before the calendar has even flipped its page. The dry grasses crackled before my eyes, and the entire countryside looked like it would ignite instantly if someone dropped a match, or if the sun simply glared too hard.
We pulled over to a gas station, and I stepped out of the car. The heat radiated up from the pavement and I cracked open a can of peach iced tea, the kind of drink that tastes its best when you have driven for miles and have miles left to go. The opening scraped my lip as I drank in the coldness, staring at the highway. I had no idea where I was going, but that mattered much less than the fact that I was going.
Months later, I biked through my new town with a friend. “I could stay out here, I think,” I said. “If I fell in love with something.” I did, eventually, fall in love. With the pace of life, with the mountains that silently shouted their magnificence, with the boy who road with me in that car.
We moved a few more times together and I did not notice that I was no longer a tumbleweed, moving freely about. I slowly began to put down roots, innocently at first. Shallow ones, like the first dandelions of spring, not realizing that they would grow and I could not easily be moved again. The change caught me by surprise when I realized that we had a place we called our home.
When the hills around my home start to burst into their dry golden flames of summer, I often remember what it was like to be standing in that parking lot, wondering where I was going. I can taste the feeling of excitement, of change. Sometimes I wonder if I imagined that season in my life, the one where I took chances and thought I would be adventuring for years until it was time to settle down.
It’s true, what they say, that motherhood is its own adventure. It is not a flight across the world, or a trip to an exotic locale, grand moments that eventually become short chapters in our lives. It is an adventure of minutiae, of tiny moments and days that are often too painfully close together. The smallness of this life adds up, however, first words on top of first steps on top of public tantrums so embarrassing you want to cry on top of kisses on the cheek, all become a love so powerful that it hurts to stare directly at it. This is real adventure, I remind myself in the more difficult moments – to risk yourself so completely for the possibility of something greater.