Friday, August 15, 2008

Today was all about speed and distance, as we decided that we could make the full 724 miles from Twin Falls, ID to our home in Scotts Valley, CA in one day. I can't imagine starting in a less focused manner: sleeping in, enjoying a leisurely hot breakfast at the hotel, finally rolling onto the road at about 11:30. We would not pull into our driveway until one in the morning. Still, it was a family operation, with all three of us pulling shifts behind the wheel. We mainly stuck to the interstate, savoring the 75 mph limits and committing not to speed, thanks to the regular sight of highway patrol cars pulling lead-footed drivers off the road.

Our only major exception to the interstate focus of the day was a continuation of a Wood Family ritual: the silent walk. This is a practice first developed by Vienna and I while we were taking a brief four-day roadtrip through Oregon and Nevada, and Jenny has finally been initiated into our tradition. Here's how it works:

When undertaking a silent walk, a driver lets off a passenger at one point on the road then driving a mile or so down the road, rounding a curve so that the car is not visible that far away. The passenger then walks to the car, not knowing exactly where it is. Simple, right? Of course, part of what makes the silent walk so special is its location: preferably a desert highway with little or no traffic. We've found that the two-lanes of north Nevada serve this purpose well. Thus each of us completed a silent walk somewhere on Highway 93, north of Wells, NV.

The silent walk calls for the walker to get rid of all media devices and meditate quietly on the places we typically speed by while driving. Walking alone, there's no need for talking, so the pedestrian concentrates more acutely on the environment: desert color, hearty scrub grass, discarded detritus, even the sound of footsteps. And since the car is out of sight, the walker never knows exactly how long the experience will last.

For me, the silent walk is about intense focus, the telescoping of place and time to a precise sense of here/now. And even though I know the car is up the road, the plodding clomps of my footsteps and the absence of other stimulus brings forth phantom worries: "Am I sure the car's around the corner? How long have I been walking? How far is the next city again?" It's a little silly, I suppose. But the silent walk is meant to call forth a quiet concentration on the things that matter, things like weather and distance and solitude, and the love of a family waiting for your return.

Once we all reconvened after our individual walks, we bulleted our way toward the Pacific, passing the time with trivia games, favorite playlists, and anticipation of our arrival back home. As usual, the kitties were quite upset at our absence. Ariadne insisted on receiving a full two weeks worth of petting that night and the next day, regardless of our need to sleep.

Now we're sifting through souvenirs and enjoying the luxury of a free weekend before a busy upcoming week. Things are changing soon for the Wood Family, as Vienna is preparing to leave for college and we're preparing for life without her day-to-day presence. It's all a bit scary to contemplate. But at least we had one great family vacation to help us get ready for the journey ahead.

All text copyright Andrew Wood.
Photos copyright Andrew and Jenny Wood.