The first road trip I ever took was not by car, but by train. My mom, grandma Mary, and cousin Meghan flew all the way to New Hampshire to help me pack my room after my freshman year at St. Paul’s, and we began our journey. We stopped in Philadelphia, Chicago, Santa Fe, and finally arrived back in Los Angeles, weary but fulfilled. Grandma Mary and I both agreed that Santa Fe was our favorite. Not only was the food unbelievable, but the colors everywhere astounded us. Every building, facade, and even road seemed like a “pow!” to the eyes. We loved the smells and the art and the fantastic desert all around us. To this day, Santa Fe and Tucson are two places I feel completely at home. The last time I was in Tucson, I wrote a letter to my grandma every night, even though she has been gone for a few years now. I told her about the cacti and the dry heat, and the house that we stayed in. The owner described it as “living on the edge of things.”
I’ve been on the road for a week now, and every day has felt stunningly long. From Boston to Cleveland to Chicago to Minneapolis, the terrain has changed from city night lights to plains and now forest over the last three days in North Dakota and Wyoming. In Medora, North Dakota, I hiked the vast trails across Teddy Roosevelt National Forest and spent the night in an old west town complete with a saloon. In the evening, the air grew cooler and even fresher. Today I passed through South Dakota and almost immediately ascended a mountain at the Wyoming border, which would eventually lead to the Devil’s Tower National Monument. Devil’s Tower is the first ever national monument, and an extremely sacred place to several American Indian tribes. I watched the sun set over the gigantic volcano remnant as crickets chirped and I read about maps.
Since arriving at the National Forest, I have been feeling a subtle longing for the house in which my grandma Mary lived in Lake Isabella, California. We called it “the lake,” and a few times a year, my family and my mom’s brothers would fill the house for a week or so. The lake house was “on the edge of things.” Everyone ended up sharing beds and only two bathrooms, and during the day we would hike out to the lake and set up chairs, coolers, and life vests. We liked to float in them after we felt too tired from jumping off rocks or swinging from trees into the water. Several moments over the course of the last few days have given me pause, like the taste of the air after a quick and intense rain shower or the sound of running shoes crunching on gravel on a dirt path. “Just like the lake,” I repeat.
If this road trip has taught me anything so far, it is that I find sacred in physical place and space. My senses bring back memories of grandma Mary and I speak to her. “You’d love this view,” I whisper. “This night sky reminds me of you and when we used to sit under it roasting marshmallows.” It’s amazing how much our senses remember and how connected they are to our emotions. I’m glad my grandmother is still with me, even if only in my footsteps.