Back home – the view before my eyes changing daily. From the bright light of summer to autumn’s liquid honey-gold. In the pasture, purple asters and goldenrod past their prime, green ferns the color of cinnamon. Grasses and maple leaves brushed with the orange-yellow of early fall. Wild turkeys grazing close to the house in the early morning and late evening. Yellow-jackets hovering around a bowl of fragrant apples on the porch. Late summer bounty of corn and tomatoes still flowing. Squash, pumpkins and root-crops starting to take center stage on the table.
The long drive east from Oregon still fresh. A few detours early on, the long stretch east of the Mississippi, the longest. The drive punctuated by natural and built wonders. And unrelenting miles of farmland and shaved corn, rows of stubble, luminous skies. Sculptural mantis-like irrigation systems perched along the road, long metal arms reaching far into the fields. Huge bales of barbed wire, hundreds of miles of cattle fencing in the process of being replaced. Grasses and shrubs along the highway, casting bronze and plummy autumn hues on the greenery, witness to the change of seasons. Inside the car, moments of time at a stand-still, meditative and reflective, the fleeting landscape a backdrop. On occasion bordering on coma-inducing. For the most part, filled with beauty. The vistas alternately dramatic and quietly subtle.
Turning off any major highway or road will almost always bring rewards. Turning the corner off Route 26 in Oregon made me gasp in wonder. Before us – the Painted Hills in all their late summer splendor. A short walk in the hot sun, a chance to appreciate the colors and textures up close, soft mounds like crunchy popcorn dusted with cayenne. The landscape sage green and rust-red, like a bowl of giant, sensuous pears.
A bright blue-sky day in Yellowstone barely enough to touch the surface of a national park with abundant wild and natural wonders. Land of bison and elk, bubbling pools of water and spouting geysers, a huge lake. Burnt and scorched earth bubbling blue, rust and green, sulfurous hot steam wafting across white crusty moon-like landscape. Old Faithful performing on schedule to an audience of hundreds, bursting high. Raised board-walks protecting the fragile eco-system. Later in the day a car-cruise along Yellowstone Lake, its size and breadth stunning. A herd of bison taking their sweet time wandering down the road. A lone coyote walking through the field along-side the road, oblivious to the stream of tourist-drivers. The blues turning pink at sunset, a descent through a steep canyon into the valley below, happy to be off the road just as dusk turned to dark.
A detour to Denver in the early morning sunshine to visit with family. South through central Wyoming’s deep, narrow canyons, reservoirs and rivers carved into the high desert mountains. Sage dotted ranch-lands, pronghorn antelope grazing along the roadway. Long stretches of road between gas and food stations. Overcast skies turning to a steady drizzle by days end, a small dose of rush-hour city traffic after stretches of mostly empty roads. At the end of a long day, the sight of family, the best view of all. The rain welcome and much-needed in the dry and smoky fire-swept west.
On the road again, the major detours behind us, two Scandi-centric pit-stops on the horizon. Just off I-80 in the Nebraska prairie-lands, the town of Gothenburg, settled by Swedes. In the middle of a rural hotel and gas-station cross-road, a tiny sod-house museum, closed for the season, deserted. A table for our picnic lunch and an espresso shack next door, made for a perfect mid-day stop.
The next day, down the road in Iowa, a stop at the Danish Immigrant Museum. A walk through exhibits inside, paintings and stories in search of family connections, an introduction to Jens Jensen’s landscape design work, and a walk through the in-progress Jensen-inspired Prairie Landscape Park. Elk Hart, more American than Danish, but a fun stop nonetheless. A six-mile drive off the highway revealed voluptuous, rolling hills and beautiful old barns. In middle America, Danish flags flying on Main Street, americanized smørrebrød served at the local inn, and lovely, friendly hosts at the Danish Mill state welcome center.
Though the detours added a few days and many miles to our long trek home to Vermont, the stretches on straight and wide highways allowed us to clock hundreds of miles each day. Getting off the main roads revealed hidden canyons and rolling hills, sometimes lurking very close by. Despite some new lows in dining, highway rest-stop bathrooms, and hotel bed experiences – the drive was an adventure to be treasured. Filled to the brim with family, friends and love. And after a good dose of home, I know the road will soon call to me again.