For those of you who may not have heard, I am no longer in Spokane. A career opportunity has taken me from my sunny west coast home in Washington to the equally sunny but much more humid eastern landscapes of Virginia. For financial reasons I decided to make this move by car and view the country from the cracked windshield of my cross-over SUV. As what may be my last entry for SpokaneFAVS, I’ve decided to write a little travel journal about my cross country road trip.
It seems fitting that my trip across our vast nation should occur the week leading into Independence Day, arguably the most patriotic time of the year. I started my adventure by driving west across Idaho. I have driven into and across the panhandle many times, but this time had such a symbolic feel. My imagination took hold of me and I felt the doors close behind me as I crossed the border. I don’t know when I’ll ever see our “emerald state” again, which has always been a transition of green and sandy brown in my memory. I smirked at the thought of the countless future conversations I will be having with strangers and new acquaintances:
“I just moved here.”
“Washington state.” (If you are moving to within a 1000 mile perimeter of the nation’s capital you MUST say the word “state”)
“Oh, I bet you don’t miss all the rain.”
“That’s actually just Western Washington that is rainy all the time.”
And from there the conversation will spiral into either a discussion about the many meteorological quirks of Washington and other locales, or a brief indictment of the average Americans’ understanding of geography. The predictability of this entire conversation has brought me comfort, because even in the unknown mists of my future on the east coast something will be familiar.
Idaho rockets by all too fast, every mile means something different. However, the emotion I feel most is awe. Awe at the countless natural wonders that have been sitting beside me, just miles away, and awe at how little of it I have seen. Don’t worry, I am not going to bore you all with an in depth description of each of the 15 states I visited during my serpentine trek across the country. I will try to only discuss the highlights.
I drove lengthwise over Montana, part of Wyoming and all of South Dakota. And I made a few observations. Thought number one (likely to be the most trite): America is huge! It is positively brobdingnagian in its scale. In the time it took me to drive across those three states, I could have driven through every country in the European Union. I could lay that stretch of highway out across the Atlantic and make a bridge to England (at its most narrow point). It. Is. Big. I was not even halfway to my destination and I was struck by the vastness of the space.
My second thought was: Driving across the country, especially South Dakota, is a nightmare from a Buddhist’s perspective. It is probably non-too-pleasant for Hindus and Jainists as well, but I can only speak for the Buddhists. It is so unpleasant because of the staggering insect death toll a single car can rack up. Thousands of lives were lost over a single 300-mile stretch of freeway, death rained across the windshield like a macabre Jackson Pollock original. As I stared across the landscape through the splattered remains of countless tiny lives I thought about how significant this drive was. It has cost each of those insects its life and I have to respect the weight of that cost as a Buddhist. Make sure to acknowledge each life’s value and to try and honor them with good works in my new endeavors. Sure it may sound strange to many of you to honor the death of an insect, but why is it so strange? Each insect is hatched or born just as any other life form, each creature lives a life of suffering and struggle, and each creature dies. To honor their death is the same as honoring the death of any other living creature. I may not shed tears, but I acknowledge that it was once alive and now it is not. I have taken life away from another individual through my actions and I should not do so carelessly. So I pledged to the thousands of tiny lives that I’ve taken to try and make an impact in my field at my new destination. Any excuse to succeed is a good excuse in my opinion.
I rocketed through dozen of towns with names and populations and attractions that all seemed so indistinguishable but yet so utterly unique. I saw the granite faces of Mt. Rushmore and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. I was truly awed by the myriad of spectacles that our country has to show the observant traveler. A diversity of flora, fauna, and architectural achievements that are both remarkable and pleasing to behold. The air grew thicker as we descended from the mountainous west into the eastern hills, humidity hung heavy in the atmosphere, and winds blew warm through my rolled down windows. As I looked out across all of this foreign wonder I couldn’t help but search desperately for signs of the familiar. I drove by the farmlands in Iowa and thought back to my familiar commute to Spokane. I already missed the rolling hills heavy with mist and the wind turbines towering above them waving lazily as my car passed like friendly titans on the Greek shores. I missed the smell of pine, and the blood red sunsets during the summer harvests.
My journey across the country took me through 15 states over the span of six days; I slept in my car and in hotels and motels all across the nation. I ate at greasy spoons and gas stations and brushed my teeth on the side of the road, and I loved every second of it. Through the course of that week on the road, I never passed customs nor had my passport stamped, but I feel as though I’ve seen a dozen foreign lands. As the slender threads that tied me to Spokane fray and stretch, I hope that I don’t lose my nostalgia for its unique charm. I will always love and miss my friends and family that I’ve left behind but I hope the 3,000 miles that separate us won’t keep us from being connected. Thank you, Spokane, for giving me my start as a veterinarian. Thank you for welcoming me into your community. Thank you for the experiences and laughs and adventures that only you could give me. I will miss you on the east coast and will be sure to sing your praises.