Sometimes you don’t realize you’re on a journey until after you’ve been on the road awhile.
A few years ago it dawned on Mr. Pettit and me that he had visited 49 states while I had been to 44. Neither of us had set foot in Rhode Island; I also had not seen New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Maine, and Utah. Forty-four states, forty-nine states: All at once we had a clearly defined mission. Fifty states---we could do this.
So, we had a grand New England adventure in fall 2010 and by the time we returned to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley only Utah remained. Utah, out West by her lonesome; Utah, not on the way to anywhere; Utah, a glittering diamond in the distance.
July 12, 2013: Utah, I stood on thy soil. Fifty states. Fait accompli.
I have to pause here and give proper thanks to the United States Air Force for helping to make the completion of this mission possible. Every time Uncle Sam plopped us in a new home---Texas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Alabama, Colorado and North Dakota---we had the chance to visit places we might not have seen otherwise. It’s not likely we would have followed the path of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery to the Pacific had we not landed in Minot, North Dakota. We might have never seen the Monterey Peninsula if we hadn’t lived in Merced, California, for a season.
Each journey has made us eager for another. We never know when serendipity will strike, as when we stumbled across a reenactment of the Battle of Little Bighorn ("Custer's Last Stand") in Montana. At other times we’re struck anew by the fact that books can convey information in only one dimension; words can’t capture the wild, exhilarating beauty of the Columbia River Gorge.
I am saddened when I talk to people who have little interest in seeing what lies beyond the borders of their own state. South Carolina, the place of my childhood, is beautiful. It has lakes, waterfalls, mountains, historic sites and a piece of the Atlantic coastline.
It does not have:
Mountains over 14,000 feet in elevation, with bare, pointy peaks that scrape the sky
“Snow snakes”: Dry coils of snow that writhe across the Dakota roadways
The hallowed ground of Gettysburg
Endless fields of corn, a green ocean extending to the horizon
The Old North Church, which has borne silent witness to our nation’s trials and triumphs since its birth
The terrible beauty of a dust storm as it approaches the high plains
The site of John Glenn’s historic launch into orbit
I’ve mentioned in my blog biography that I feel sorry for people who have traveled to Europe but have never seen the Rocky Mountains. As I reflect on our journey, on our fifty glimpses of this nation, I hold that opinion more strongly than ever. I realize many of my fellow citizens can’t travel due to a variety of reasons such as health problems or financial concerns. But if you’ve got the time and money I ask you to consider the following:
Residents of the East Coast, travel west across the Mississippi to get an idea of how big the sky can be. Drive, if possible, so you can feel the expansiveness of the plains.
Residents of the West Coast, travel east, all the way to the Atlantic, preferably in the fall. You need to see those old, rounded mountains all lit up with every color imaginable, and don't forget to stop in at some of the places where our nation got its start.
Finally, talk to folks you meet along the way. You’ll hear the music of regional accents and the richness of local stories. The scenery isn’t the only part of America worth taking in.
America, you’re beautiful.