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Thoughts from a Road Trip

August 13, 2015

DSC_6041We are a road tripping kind of family.  Some families fly to exotic locations around the world, some go to the nearby coast several times a summer, some go on two or three week long road trips.  For the past six years, we’ve been the long road trip type.

I know the first couple of questions that follow.  How do you get that much time off of work?  Well, being a teacher, I have summers.  My husband usually only does one direction of the road trip and the other direction he gets to fly home.  The second question is,  Doesn’t that cost a lot of money?  We tent camp our way through our road trip–one our last road trip we paid for hotels 2 nights out of 14.  That’s quite affordable.  The last question I hear is, “How do you stand so much time in the car with each?”  Books on tape.  This summer, it was the first two books of Harry Potter.  The kids get a couple of hours of screen time each long day in the car and the grownups listen to podcasts or music during that time.  The rest of the time, we talk, play games, be silly and drive the parents crazy, sleep, or fight. (Yeah, sometimes I think my kids fight for sheer entertainment purposes).

This summer’s road trip was to the Central California Coast (including Big Sur area) by way of Mesa Verde National Park and the Grand Canyon.  Curtis drove out with us, and then the kids and I drove home, stopping at the Red Rock area of Arizona and Albuquerque to pick up my niece on the way.  We saw some amazing things on our trip and the many, many miles gave me plenty of time to ruminate.  What follows are some thoughts jotted on a paper towel from the trip home.

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When I drive through Eastern New Mexico and West Texas, I need things to keep my mind occupied.  This trip, I turned to Krista Tippett’s On Being Podcast.  I listened to three podcasts interviewing Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche Community for adults with cognitive limitations, Mary Oliver, a poet, and Pico Iyer, a writer and contemplative.  While I enjoyed listening to the Mary Oliver interview with Madeleine and discussing things writers do and I found the Jean Vanier interview beautiful, it was the Pico Iyer interview that got me thinking.IMG_4703 (1)

I had never heard of Pico Iyer before and know very little about him currently other than Tippett’s interview.  He talked with Tippett about stillness, traveling/vacation, and everyday life.  All things appealed to me as we were on our last day of a two week vacation.  After two weeks of vacation, one may think I was exhausted and stressed.  While I was a bit exhausted, I was also more relaxed and at ease than I had been in a long time.  Hours and hours of driving through the desert (so much desert between here and the Pacific Coast) encouraged stillness and stillness energizes me.

We weren’t totally unplugged on our trip, but there stretches of days were we had very limited cell service and no internet/texting.  I have decided any good vacation needs a few days of being unplugged.  Pico Iyer talked about why he chose the simple lifestyle in Japan.  Unplugging from modern technology gains us more time.  Time savers cost us a lot of time.  This seemed more true to me in the rolling New Mexican hills than it has other times.  For two weeks, we lived with what could fit in our car and our cooler.  What we could carry with us was enough (and trust me, it was a lot!).  I wondered how much all this stuff I have at my house weighs me down as we go through everyday life.  When I think of how much time I spent managing my “stuff” at home, I realized how much more time I would have if I had less.  Jen Hatmaker’s book, 7, came to mind.  A small group of us had tried her 7 experiment for awhile this summer (we didn’t make it the whole way through…).  However, living out of our car for two weeks was a better lesson than any of the things we had contrived.

DSC_6113How do I carry this over into my everyday life?  How can I cultivate stillness amidst soccer practices, piano lessons, working full time, and just everyday life maintenance?  This isn’t that different than being still while on vacation with children. There wasn’t a lot of sitting still.  Stillness doesn’t just come from not moving.  Stillness comes when quietly exploring a new beach with a child.  Stillness comes when walking quietly across a river on a log in the middle of a redwood forest.  Stillness comes when wondering how in the world wood became fossilized and crystals formed in the middle of logs.  Stillness comes when hiking the Grand Canyon with a very, very unhappy loud child and still noticing how the view changed with every few steps.  Stillness comes when sitting at a campsite while kids climb trees, play in creeks, or build structures out of sticks and rocks.

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This is the dogtrot homestead we found less than five miles from our house, surrounded by office buildings, busy highways, and railroad tracks. Amazing!

Stillness comes from being present in the world around us.  To cultivate stillness amidst my life, I need to create space to be present–to marvel over the unique personalities and gifts my students at school bring to our classroom.  I need to continue to explore Austin and the surrounding areas with my children, finding splash pads at far away soccer practice fields, hidden 1800’s era homesteads in the midst of an urban area, eating good food with others who appreciate it as well.  I can cultivate stillness by making time for a 45 minute walk with the dog and maybe the littlest (on his bike) to remind me of the world I am rooted in.  I need to let go of worrying about schedules and how things will work out.  I will figure it out.  The kid will make it to practice.  And if the kid needs to miss one or two practices or games, it is not the end of the world.

I loved driving through Northern New Mexico and Arizona.  While the landscape at times seemed flat, most of the time we were at almost a mile high elevation or higher.  The sky seemed closer and the clouds didn’t feel as distant.   The horizon was vast, often without much evidence of humans, leaving space.  In that area, I always feel there is room for stillness and quiet.  I feel like I am vitally a part of the world around me, insignificant in the vastness.  This is not a bad thing.

According to Pico Iyer, “We don’t travel to move, we travel to be moved.”  As I enter the end of vacation and the beginning of a new school year, I hope I can find things that move me and cultivate stillness until our next road trip.

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