Road Trip

I recently took a week and a few days to go back to Virginia and North Carolina to visit friends and collect some art I’d stored in one friend’s house. I enjoyed the reconnections with people, and the brief exposure to snow and cold and to architecture that was neither adobe nor trailer. T or C, with a population of a little over 6,000—it’s been shrinking—seems tiny next to Harrisonburg, Virginia (pop. 52,000), though it’s also considered a “small town” by some people. To me, Harrisonburg felt downright urban. So many ethnic restaurants with healthy choices, so many building over two stories tall, and so many traffic lights. (T or C has one.)

I dropped in on former colleagues, and due to snow, I was grateful that retired faculty have access to the college fitness facility. Running on an indoor track takes mental endurance, and if there hadn’t been so many students playing basketball to keep me amused, I wonder if I could have managed my usual distance. I taught a couple of yoga classes at the studio where I used to work in Harrisonburg, and it was a special and meaningful opportunity.

Part two of my road trip took me to Asheville, NC, where I found myself wondering what a trip to the mountains of North Carolina would be like for Mae Martin, my series’ protagonist.  (I was visiting the friend who inspired  the character.) Mae grew up in that area and she has connections in Asheville. What it would feel like for her to go back, after living in New Mexico? Asheville is a lot like Santa Fe and T or C in some ways, with its artists and yoga teachers and massage therapists, but in many ways it’s entirely different. The mountains are old and green. And the smaller towns beyond the city, such as the place where Mae’s grandparents lived, are another world, culturally and spiritually as well as physically, from the funky, eccentric town where she’s made a new home. (I moved her to T or C years before I made the permanent move myself.)

And what about a road trip itself as part of a story? Travel is inherently challenging. I drove through rain in the Blue Ridge on my way in, and on my way back through wind that started to peel the rubber rain-channel seal off my windshield, wind that made it hard to open the car door when I stopped for gas, wind that made big truckers struggle to open and close the doors of the truck stop. There were two wildfires on the outskirts of Amarillo and the flames and smoke mingled weirdly with the sunset. Any events in a story that I could set in weather like that would be doubly difficult for my characters, and it’s my job as a writer to make their lives difficult.

The outcome of all this? I’m glad to be home in this peculiar town with its colorful people and murals, its hot springs, and its art and music scenes. I was glad to see my T or C yoga students, to run in the desert again with the lizards and jackrabbits and roadrunners, and to go out dancing at the T or C Brewery. The art I brought back is either consigned for sale or on my walls, and I feel even more at home now with the pieces I chose to keep all around me. More complete, focused and inspired to create, with new ideas for the work in progress.

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Recompressing

Half-way between New Mexico and Virginia, my tire pressure goes down. It happens every year. Nothing is wrong with the tires. It’s just that I go to mechanics in Santa Fe and they make sure the pressure is normal for that altitude, and then I descend to the lowlands.

When I unpack in Virginia, I always find that my shampoo bottle and other plastic containers have collapsed inward, folding in around the empty spaces inside them. When I run, I feel the heaviness of the air—the dampness as well as the low altitude. It’s hard work, like plowing through used teabags. Talk about coming down!

It’s time to recompress. I’ll readapt to the climate, to the busyness of the academic year, and to the green campus, so conventional and normal. I’m in the transitional phase, now though. I miss the colors and textures of the desert, the people in T or C, the eccentric personality of the town itself, the spaciousness of my life there and all the open space around it—so delightfully situated in the middle of nowhere. The challenge now is stay spacious inside when my surroundings aren’t, and as external demands become like the air, an unseen weight leaning on me. I did yoga on my back deck today, and two tiny bees sat peacefully on my shoulder through several poses. I was grateful to have this practice of active mindfulness. It left me feeling whole and bright. My outer life has to recompress, but my soul doesn’t.