Monday, November 14, 2011

On the American Road: Finding My Way Home

From modes of transport pioneers took seeking new frontiers (seating for 9 inside this coach in the New Mexico history museum).

To your blogger using modern modes of transport seeking pursuit of leisure time, something our pioneer foremothers new little of. This rental Chevy Aveo was my Southwest carrier.

Trails now to adventure. How different life was just a few hundred years ago.

I've been thinking a lot about letters and diaries of the past, and our modern world of sharing everything in real-time. Do you keep a diary or write letters as a witness of your own times and life? Modern forms of records of our lives like Facebook and twitter lack the permanence diaries and letters do.

I love both real and fictionalized diaries of frontier life. In "These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901," based in part on the life of the author's great-grandmother, Nancy Turner's Sarah wrote in her diary the trials of pioneer living.

After surviving a trail to Arizona witnessing rampant death due to childbirth, sickness, Indian attacks and forces of nature, Sarah writes in her diary entry on February 11, 1882 of train travel,

"I wonder what it is like to travel safe and fast in an iron box away from Indians and cougars."

Far from it. "It is safer from things like snakes on the ground, [Captain Elliot] says, but not from the two legged kind. And there has been train robbery and something called derailments which happens when robbers tear up the tracks just to tip it over and kill the folks and rob gold shipments and payroll and such."

I wonder what those in the future will think of our times and what they would think of our documentations of our lives.

With letters on my mind, I also thought of the letter written by Benjamin Button in the film version of the F. Scott Fitzgerald tale, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

"It is never too be whoever you want to be. There's no time limit. Stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. You can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that stop you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you're proud of. If you find that you're not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again."

I saw things on this trip that stopped me all the time. No image can truly capture it. I met people with a different point of view, like hunters. I am proud of who I am, but considered if I have the strength to say, to pick up and live elsewhere in our nation one day when I've always lived in New Jersey. My boyfriend wonders if he can make a living in some of the smaller towns we encountered, but in the northern New Jersey area, the cost of living, in particular taxes, is an oppressive force in our pursuit of the American dream, and overcrowding takes a toll on the quality of life. There are many wonderful things about living here, but I often wonder like the pioneers did, is a better life just across the prairie?

I have great adventures each year on my vacations, but I am back to my daily life, which means harried commutes on a bus, a rushed walk to the office, a day in front a computer, walk to the terminal on streets busy with tourists, long wait lines for the bus, back on the bus, come home too tired to enjoy pursuits I long to do, like cooking. Just a box of Trader Joe's tomato soup tonight. I know, cry me a river from what our pioneers endured, but life just seems to be passing by too quickly.

I take solace in the words of Laura Ingalls Wilder's words in Beyond the Prairie: The True Story of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

"In my life as a writer I have craved long hours of solitude and idle thought but I know the value of ordinary life as well. A life in which the task at hand is plain and hard and unchanging. It was the sort of rooted life that I learned from my father to tolerate but learned from my mother to cherish. A life that is full not because of the places you've been or the miles you have traveled but because you have stayed who you are, have coaxed something of value from the unforgiving Earth and have passed each day in harmony with those you love."

As mentioned before, I've discovered the Little House books this year, and in Beyond the Prairie, a thoughtful two-part film I watched from the library, I've connected to some of what I love about them with what Laura said,

"More than anything else my books have been about home, about a dream of home that all of us share."

The definition of home to me is wide ranging, and is not just four walls. It's family and friends, the dog, the familiar ones who know my name at the library, farms, and favorite thrift shops. The foods, the scents, the books. I've been to grand parks abroad, but none can hold a candle to a Sunday at a local park with the family dog. I love my adventures, but I love coming home.


  1. "There are many wonderful things about living here, but I often wonder like the pioneers did, is a better life just across the prairie?"

    Oh woman, me too! Me too. The city is just beating me down.

    I recently read "Little House in the Ozarks"--a book of Laura's columns for MO farm papers. Great stuff. Check it out if you haven't read it!

  2. The same here. If it were up to me and I didn't have another half, I'd pick up and move to New Mexico or Colorado just for the adventure and to escape the madness. I loved the land there just that much.

    I would love to read that book. Thanks for the recommendation. I can't wait to read "The Long Winter" book this winter. :-)

  3. Catherine I love that you share your diary here. The southwest trip sounds and looks wonderful for you. I do keep a diary and have a few bookshelves full of writing...story time calling me.

  4. Hi Jennifer. Thanks for reading and commenting. I considered how I don't keep a traditional diary, but yes, my blog is a diary of my life, dreams and thoughts.

    Story time is one of the highlights of my day. I'd be lost without a good story.