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J. Alden Weir: The Stone Bridge (ca. 1887-1893)
"Anything to delay arrival. .."

Two hundred and forty-four miles separate these two worlds, the one I was raised in and the one I came of age in. All my life, I've traveled between these two points more than between any two other. Even those years where I commuted weekly to work in Silicon Valley barely dented this enduring trajectory. Even leaving the area, moving back east, and spending years away didn't change how I related to my world. Home came in two flavors. There was home and then there was back home, each authentic, neither sufficient all alone. One home held my stuff, the other, my roots. Neither place made any sense without the other. I suppose that it's this way for anyone who moves away to make their life. One can move out but not permanently away, or at least I never found a way to permanently stay away. I was always headed home, either to where my heart was or to where my stuff resided. The two states rarely coincided, or didn't until The Muse and I decided to move "back" to my hometown and we bought The Villa. Even then, my son and grandkids came to live at precisely the two hundred and forty-four mile marker from our new home, with home taking on a fresh double meaning: where my heart resides and where my progeny lives.

We migrate between these two homes about once a month for now, taking a long weekend to visit family and perhaps a friend. It's a predictable route.
We know every inch of it and could probably drive it in our sleep, and have on occasion when we decided to make the round trip in a single day. The last sixty miles or so seemed interminable then with bed beckoning us in. We claim that we've never taken the same route once between those two points, and there's more than wordplay at play in that assertion. In fact, it seems as if it would be impossible to replicate any route between these two points for there are too many choices and whims involved. We can head out from Walla Walla either West or Southwest, the Wallula Route or the Pendleton one. The former's shorter but a little slower, depending. The latter involves more freeway driving, depending. So much depends upon so much. We rarely ever attempt to find the shortest distance between these two points, but almost always opt to make the trip a little longer, if only to make it seem shorter. An ounce of variety can produce the sensation of shorter.

The kids and I once made up a truly terrible traveling tune, the lyrics of which included the name of every exit between the John Day River and Hood River and would have gone on longer, but we got distracted. We intended to eventually include every exit along the whole route, but again, we got distracted. It seems that this route, The Columbia River Route, is paved with distractions. Under its influence, it often makes perfect sense to take a small detour for a change, maybe hop to the far side of the river, just for a change of perspective, maybe pick a few cherries in Mosier. Now that Portland has become a dystopian shadow of her former self, we tarry less within her borders. We're more anxious to get started going home than we are at making excuses for delaying our departure. It might be that over nearly fifty years of practice, the journey has become the destination and the destinations, effort. From refurbishing The Villa and Just Visiting family, the journey has become the more permanent portion of the proceedings. We might feel most at home, in most familiar territory, when we're between homes.

Yesterday, I proposed heading home via The Barlow Trail, a remnant of The Old Oregon Trail which had gone up the backside of Mount Hood and into the top of the Willamette Valley. It's no longer a couple of ruts and some corduroy road, but a narrow two lane blacktop National Forest Service road with a lengthy detour onto a one lane asphalt with turnouts. This toodle would add at least an hour to our return trip to The Villa, and perhaps as many as two over our usual four hours and change, but we needed a toodle, and we needed the change. We took a LongWayHome but because it was a different route, it seemed much shorter. We drove through history, happening upon a colony of fishing platforms built along The Deschutes at Sherar's Falls. We'd never been precisely this way before. An infinite array of alternative ways remain to be discovered.

Travel, migration, navigation, these involve much more than two points, and the point of none of them necessarily involves completion, and certainly not as planned. These acts involve a field and live outside time. We do not disappear when we leave somewhere and we do not just suddenly manifest when we arrive. We've been there all along, chugging along, on our way somewhere, but also already somewhere as well. We have on past excursions attempted to set a new land speed record traveling between these two points, amazing ourselves at how we almost arrived before we departed. They say that the last twenty-five miles of any trip tend to be the most dangerous. We're distracted then, already home in our heads, unpacking. The wide open distance before us keeps shrinking until our adventure disappears. It's no wonder when The Muse suggests a small detour to buy melons from the last roadside stand remaining. Anything to delay arrival anywhere.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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