May 13, 2011
The West-by-North peregrination from Charleston to Yellowstone to Michigan and back, otherwise known as “my last-big-RV-trip,” is underway. Preparations were arduous, as always for a long trip. So much needs to be thought about ahead of time, to be dealt with, to be taken care of. But once the journey is underway, a sense of relief finally comes over me, followed by feelings of freedom, even joy. Driving up highway 61, the low-country oaks with branches dripping Spanish moss create a tunnel, darkening the mid-afternoon sun. I take the back-roads toward Augusta, GA, 61, 78, and 287; it’s as quick, if not quicker, than taking the interstates (26 & 20); there’s almost no traffic, and the scenery is lovely – quiet forests and small, quaint (dilapidated, mostly black) country villages, a couple of small towns. It's mostly flat, but in the far western part of the state, the hills undulate fiercely, then abruptly descend to the Savannah River and give way to the gentle, rolling Georgia plains.
As I pass over the hills and across the river, a bank of clouds draws a sharp line between the gray sky above and a bright orange sky off to the west. As I pursue the orange streak, that city of gold in the west, the color swirls from peach to mauve; the sun briefly flares brilliantly, and then sets beyond the trees. I find a rest-stop along I-20 and pull in as the sky darkens. I’m exhausted, having awakened that morning at 4:30 AM. I sleep from a little after 9:00 PM until a about 8:00 the next morning, hardly hearing the truck diesels growling nearby.
I leave the rest-stop about 10:00 AM, after a leisurely breakfast, and drive toward Atlanta. After about an hour of driving, the “service-engine-soon” light comes on, which raises alarm bells in my mind. I call Mick (at Charleston Truck Service), and he talks me through everything I should check out. The engine has been running smoothly, the dashboard dials don't indicate any problem, and I don’t smell acrid or metallic odors nor hear any odd noises. So, after driving another hundred miles, filling up the gas tank, checking the gas mileage, and calling Mick again, I decide to drive on to Mt Juliet, near Nashville, where daughter Lis and her family live. (I’ll be taking the RV into a Ford dealer/service center in Nashville on Monday.)
On the interstate between Atlanta and Chattanooga, I meditate on how lucky I am – how lucky we all are in this country. I’m driving in a comfortable vehicle, listening to a Telemann sonata for two flutes on PBS and watching the green, rolling, forested hills: the dark green of pines and the lighter green – nearly chartreuse – of deciduous trees in spring. Above the verdant foliage floats a light blue sky brushed with wisps of clouds; I feel as though I’m living in an eighteenth century aristocratic pastoral idyll.
Then, as I top a hill, I see a large swath nearly devoid of trees. On the right side of the highway it looks like some giant lumber-jack has pushed over all the large trees, snapping them or uprooting them, leaving only a few spindly saplings standing. Then I look across to the other side of the highway and see that the same thing has happened there also, but worse. Almost nothing is standing. And I realize that one of those recent, devastating tornados must have passed right across that ridge. Driving on past the destruction, I see that most trees are standing, but many limbs have been torn off or are hanging limp on their trunks, held tenuously by sinews of bark. And the sense of well-being – almost nirvana – that carried me, free-floating, along that highway for miles is suddenly tempered by anguish for those trees, with no choice but to stand straight and silent before the vicious onslaught of the sky-god.