It would be a long drive, but that’s why I left. That’s why I came. Because I need to see it all. I drove southwest across Virginia, and the farther west I went, the country opened itself up and out. There became hills and windey roads. I stopped at an overlook to take in the panorama; I looked down and didn’t spend too much time trying to decipher the bit of graffiti left on lover’s leap. Country stores and local everything dotted the state route, but it was taking too long. I headed for the interstate and put the hammer down. There were rivers in Tennessee that were unmarked, and I so desperately wanted to know the place I was crossing–what was the name of that mountain on the other side? But there’s no time, I have to keep going.
I was woefully underdressed when I arrived at the hotel in Knoxville. I greeted a wedding party in shorts and flip flops, dumped my backpack at the front desk and waited to check in, then wished the groom congratulations in the elevator. He seemed tired and tentative about everything around him, but he said it had been a good day. Knoxville was nice to pass through, but there were places I liked more.
And the drive continued, heading through Alabama on the interstate, I felt I needed to make better time this day. Approaching Montgomery, I noticed the government buildings were beautiful, and it was hard for me to fathom that THIS is living history before me. Names, places, events that had been black and white words in a textbook were right here, and right now, and what that means to me today.
On the drive home I felt very much the same way. I exclaimed I couldn’t swing a dead cat and not hit something historic. He asked, “Oh? Where is that?” I said, “It’s called the SOUTH.” I’ll never forget the road that runs between Montgomery and Macon, lined with tallest pines. Georgia is filled with pines. And history. I wanted to stop and visit the Tuskeegee Airmen’s museum, and later the Civil War Naval museum, but I had to keep going. I know what to see next time, maybe when the leaves are changing. I was headed for Charleston, SC and by the time I reached my hotel at midnight it was 85 degrees and just about 100% humidity. The air felt positively nuclear. On my way home from Charleston, I couldn’t take my eyes off the palmettos on state route 17, the dirt roads that come down to to meet the route, dotted with shacks and sheds where people sit and sell woven baskets. In some places there were mansions and plantations fronted by brick or low iron gates, behind were enormous trees. I was struck by the first names of slaves, people’s fingers touched these branches so long ago, and I’m just passing through history, making my way back to a little dot on the beach, whose history is only in teenagerhood. Full disclosure: I did make a rest stop in Myrtle Beach and bought a gauzy little blouse-thing, melon-colored, that will be nice for sunset.
When I got home the first thing I did after dumping my gear was drink some homemade tea, so unsweetened and cold. I put the air conditioning on to dry out the house and marveled at how much my plant seemed to have grown. He is unstoppable. I brought home a sweet potato vine, and I think she will keep everyone good company on the sill. I missed my beach halfway through the visit and definitely in the middle of Georgia. I took my drink down to the water and walked a long way in it, wondering what it would look like in the morning.
Someday I will write about Arizona, but it’s hard to find the right words that mean “breathtaking mountain that comes up from nowhere, surrounded by plains, dotted with cactus and humans who’ve grown so strong and hard as to survive here.” Every time I stand on that mountain, or look down from that plane and watch geography shift, heave, and lie, I lose my words.