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June 16, 2011

There has always been a wanderlust in me, seeking escape from the known to the unknown. A train whistle in the night excites my senses. I yearn for the freedom of an open road. So it was not a hard sell, this road trip from New York to California with my daughter promising to share the wheel, her newly minted driver’s license in hand. The moment the idea loosened from her lips, I seized it, imagining nights around a campfire and days exploring small towns and grand vistas.

A departure day neared, apprehension grew. I appreciated the soft warmth of my own bed, the teakettle and refrigerated milk that softened each new morning. We would have to leave the dog behind, and my husband too. I knew someone would feed the dog, but what about my husband? (He is known for a profound lack of self-care.) I had the dog groomed and vaccinated and implored friends and family to keep an eye on my husband. As the road trip was leading us to my niece’s wedding, I packed my husband’s formal wear in my luggage to insure a presentable mate should he manage to fly out to join us as planned. Nothing was left to chance.

My husband worried that the dog would miss me. I wondered if he was projecting. The dog and I had a “sit! down!” chat the morning we left. I explained the situation as succinctly as I could. He seemed to understand. He had been following clues for several weeks, never leaving my side. Now he could stop worrying. I would leave, and someday I would return. I thought he took it well.

Our trip took us south first, to visit an old friend and to make some new ones. From the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and North Carolina to Arkansas, where we holed up for two days in a hotel, avoiding the tornadoes that swept across our pre-determined route near Fort Smith on the very night we had reservations at a campground there. We got out of Oklahoma fast, fearing another swath of twisters, and were happy to land in a flat, dry Texas campground with clear skies that hadn’t seen more than a drop of rain since January. (Droughts seem to go hand-in-hand with recessions in this country.)

Along the way, we saved a rattlesnake from becoming road-kill and a tiny sparrow separated from its nest, saw several lizards (alive) and armadillos (dead.) The swollen Mississippi River sidled up to Highway 40 as we drove through Tennessee into Arkansas. All the while, music played from my daughter’s i-Pod—a medley of artists known and unknown to me. Her good taste survived genres I would normally avoid, and we sang raunchy lyrics out loud together in the snug privacy of our little white Prius.