One of the things our Year on the Edges of America taught me is that the best way to pack for a two-week vacation is to first take a yearlong trip. Once you’ve had to pack for a year in a compartment the size of an oven, packing for two weeks in a suitcase is a breeze.
(Here’s one of my favorite photos from our year’s adventure, taken from Lopez Island northwest of Seattle in Washington state.)
Another thing I learned was that even the best-laid plans can go awry … and that there’s almost always a spontaneous fix-it solution. Giving yourself some time to wail in agony and sob in regret prior to exploring possible work-arounds, however, can be surprisingly cathartic.
Case in point, our buried aspirations.
Attentive readers will remember the ceremony with which we launched our journey around the country last year. (I described it toward the end of this blog post.) Georges, my mother and I each wrote down three private aspirations that we had for the coming year. Then we rolled up the paper on which we’d written them, tied a bow around it and placed the aspirations into a leftover Christmas candy canister for burial.
Mom was with us on the first leg of our journey last March, from Dallas to the Rio Grande Valley, as we carefully scoped out just the right place to bury our canister at Kickapoo Cavern State Park near the border with Mexico at Del Rio. We would complete our circle a year later in precisely the same spot, unbury the canister and share the aspirations with one another in a quiet candlelight ceremony of reflection and spiritual communion.
It was a good plan.
The burial spot had to be hidden and unmarked. We didn’t want kids playing in the campground in the months to come to discover it and make off with our treasure. Nor did we want any wild animals to mistake our package for food and dig it up to tear it apart.
But the spot also had to be recognizable to us a year later, after winds, rains, snow and ice – possibly even floods – took their toll. Who knows what forces of nature would occur in the intervening 365 days?
I wrote in my journal a precise description of the burial location – opposite this sign, amid that grove of trees, in front of the furthest tree on the left as you’re looking toward the mountain, etc. G placed the canister in a ziplock bag for protection against rust, dug a shallow hole and then snugged the package carefully beneath an underground root for stability. We placed five flat white stones in a flower petal shape to mark the spot, dusted the whole area with fallen leaves and took several photos to guide us back to it the following year.
Here’s what the burial spot looked like on March 3, 2018 before we headed south and then east on our perimeter trip….
Here’s a very short video of what the spot looked like nearly a year later when we returned to Kickapoo Cavern State Park from the west….
Amazingly, the aspirations weathered whatever Mother Nature threw at them. And they were undisturbed by children or animals.
Indeed, we found them right where we left them. We were so excited! Here’s G digging them up.
We wanted to wait to open the canister until we returned home to Dallas so we could unscroll the aspirations together with Mom. Shortly after we arrived back in Dallas last month, G went to fetch them from the Casita.
But he couldn’t find them.
No matter. Perhaps they’re in the car, we thought. We’ll be unpacking everything from both the Casita and the Xterra now that we’re home for awhile. They’ll turn up.
Except they didn’t.
Case of the Missing Aspirations
I’ve written before about how we’ve repeatedly lost/misplaced things on this journey. It’s really quite weird. It took us weeks to find a misplaced lighter stick, weeks more to find a miscreant hand shovel. A ziplock bag with $627 in cash in it went missing for four months until an ogre of a Canadian border agent “helped” us find it, charging us a hefty finder’s fee in the process. (I wrote about that here.)
The car is barely 12 feet long and the Casita 17. How many places can our missing items really hide?
We’re organized people. At some point last spring along the Atlantic seaboard, we started a list of Things Lost, followed up by a list of Things Found, complete with dates and locations. We figured the lists would help make us more intentional – and if they provided a few laugh lines along the way so much the better.
And then we lost the lists.
Which brings me back to our aspirations.
G remembered placing the canister, still in the slightly muddy plastic ziplock bag – just seconds after that last video was shot – next to the trash can in the Casita. He put it there so as not to dirty up the floor of our home on wheels. Then we tootled off from Kickapoo Cavern State Park, resplendent in the rediscovery of our canister of aspirations, secure in the imagined pleasure we’d have opening the package and sharing reflections with Mom in Dallas in just a few days.
Hours later, we arrived in the town of Bandera amid Mardi Gras and promptly set out to enjoy the local menagerie. We returned late that night to our Casita and fell into bed. The next morning, we slept in, showered, straightened up the Casita and headed out again to walk over to a local music fest.
I took out the trash. I remember walking down the lane next to the Medina River and placing it in the huge community trash bin. I never looked at the trash bag in my hand. Why would I? Trash is trash, something to get rid of, something to leave behind.
Except, I realized much later in Dallas, our aspirations were probably in that bag of trash.
Our cherished aspirations … the dreams and wishes marking the start of our Journey of a Lifetime …. the launch of a new phase of double-retiree life… the bookends to our Year on the Edges of America… I’m pretty sure they were all in the plastic bag I carelessly tossed away.
Stick an arrow through my head
The realization hit like ton of bricks, like a karate kick to the gut. The air went out of the room, my ears buzzed, my stomach fell to the floor.
I wanted to stick an arrow through my head and roll over and die.
Those aspirations had weathered everything Nature threw at them. For an entire year. And then G and I came along and in less than 24 hours managed to destroy them without even realizing it.
There was absolutely nothing we could do. We thought briefly of rushing back to Bandera and digging through the huge trash receptacle. But several days had gone by; the trash surely had been taken to a dump somewhere long ago.
It took awhile, a long while, but I finally came out of my funk … and together we developed a substitute plan.
We each thought hard about what we wrote on those pieces of paper, tried to recreate the original exercise by re-conjuring precisely what we aspired to at that particular time and place. It wasn’t easy. A lot had happened in the last year; we’d each covered a lot of life-changing ground since then.
This substitute didn’t produce quite the candlelight ceremony I’d originally had in mind, but it was the best we could do. It got at least partway to the goal of shared self reflections and intimacies.
G was able to reconstruct his aspirations. The first was for the journey to be a success, and success to him meant no huge breakdowns, no significant equipment failures, no grievous errors of judgment or planning.
This he judges a modest success. We had just two flat tires and a battery failure in nearly 27,000 miles. The only real hardships we endured on the entire trip had to do with a malevolent Canadian border official and a midnight thief in Washington state with bolt cutters and an eye for high-end bikes – both attributable, even in hindsight, to circumstances largely out of our control.
G might have altered some of the logistics, he says – packed less, for example, for just a week or two and planned to do laundry more often. He might have lightened his toolbox, as most of what he carried we never used. (There’s almost nothing that’s not just a Walmart away.)
But all in all, he’s pleased with the outcome of this aspiration.
G’s second aspiration was for the two of us to end the journey feeling closer to one another than ever before. This turned out to be no small feat given the dramatic change our relationship was about to undergo.
One or both of us has always worked full-time during our nearly 20 years together, and we’d fallen into well-defined roles for life management. This perimeter trip would be the first time neither of us would have external obligations, the first time we’d be spending such intensive, and unremitting, time together. We’d be redefining the roles within our marriage on the fly – while constantly scrambling over or around one another in excruciatingly tight quarters.
“We had our moments,” G concedes.
What had been minor annoyances when we each had separate corners in the marriage morphed into major affronts now that we shared the same corner in a tiny trailer. There were times when were crabby, frustrated or just plain tired of one another. Upon reflection, G says he wishes he’d been more patient at certain points, less snappy at times of tension.
But at no point did either of us consider slamming the door and hightailing it back to Dallas. Quite the contrary. The moments of strain were eclipsed by hours excitement as we blazed new trails, met fascinating people, gazed at gorgeous scenery. We seemed to flit from high point to high point, occasionally finessing our way out of tough spots, and reveling in the success and beauty of it all.
“No calls to a divorce attorney,” G says with a smile. “Definitely a success.”
G’s third aspiration was to be healthy, to exercise regularly and stay in shape – goals that become increasingly important as we age. This one’s a mixed bag. We didn’t get nearly enough regular exercise.
Yes, we hiked and biked more than a thousand miles, but we also ate exceptionally well all year – a benefit of having a chef on board – and we’d sometimes go for days, weeks even, without exerting any more energy than it takes to wander through a museum or down a grocery aisle.
Part of this was due to schedule. We never felt particularly rushed, but we were always conscious of needing to move along. We rarely stayed in one place more than two or three nights so it was hard to develop any sort of rhythm for activity. When the weather was less than perfect, we tended to favor climate-controlled visitor centers over better-bundle-up hiking trails.
Maybe we should have taken two years to do the trip to give us more time to develop an activity habit in each new venue, or done the country in briefer segments with trips home in between to preserve more of an exercise routine.
Whatever. G considers this aspiration a work in progress.
Mom also remembers all three of her aspirations. A lifelong Republican who values fairness, frugality and dignity, Mom’s first wish was for Robert Mueller to produce a full and complete report that would provide sufficient evidence to remove Trump from office.
This aspiration remains disappointingly unfulfilled.
She had better luck with her other two aspirations. She aspired to be around to greet us upon our return a year later – she turned 91 while we were away so sticking around isn’t something to be taken for granted – and she hoped G and I would have safe travels.
✅ and ✅.
Mom was with us on five different legs of the trip. She started with us for the first 11 days in Texas and then flew on non-stop flights out of easy-to-navigate Love Field to meet us in Providence, Cleveland, Seattle and Phoenix. It was great to hug her tight when we pulled back into Dallas last month.
So Mom was around for more than just the end. She was also with us at several points in the middle. Such a blessing!
And yes, we were safe the whole way. At only one brief point on our trip did we feel physically threatened (I wrote about it here), and then it was more our imagination than any true danger.
We found throughout our journey that Americans, when not motivated by fear, are consistently kind and generous.
I actually can remember only two of my three aspirations. I don’t know why I can’t remember the third one. It must have been a very “in the moment” aspiration, a revelation whose impression didn’t last….
I know I wrote on my piece of paper my desire to deepen my relationships with loved ones, especially my husband and mother, and to explore with greater discipline what has always been my true professional aspiration, writing, now that I’d have the gift of time.
That gift of time is precious. For the first time in some 50 years I’m not working full-time or in school – or both – and wrestling with all the multi-tasking, juggling of priorities and regrets for all-which-is-left-undone that come with such regiment.
It’s taken some getting used to. It was somewhere along the Atlantic seaboard last summer before I finally put away my wristwatch. I still tend to grocery shop with a mental stopwatch ticking loudly in the back of my brain.
I’m learning revel in time that is truly my own. I can spend an entire day with G doing absolutely nothing and not worry that it’s put me behind on this project or that because there’s always tomorrow and the next day – and the next! – for this project or that.
I’m able to spend hours with Mom, helping with her taxes, her computer, her doctor’s appointments, even getting her back out on the golf course – unrushed hours that I never seemed to have enough time or energy for before.
And if I want to spend an extra hour – heck, a whole day! – journaling about a particular experience or specific setting, I can. No competing daily deadlines. I’ve no meetings to chair, budgets to balance, digital reports to read, personnel conflicts to resolve.
I can write, rewrite and rewrite to my heart’s content…..
The gift of time has allowed me to daydream, to relax, to simply wonder without inhibition. (It’s also afforded me the luxury of posting to this blog 102 times.)
Neither my relationships nor my writing efforts are filled vessels, though, so these two aspirations are very much works in progress.
And about that third aspiration? I’ve still no idea what it was. So I just created a new one:
Be more careful about taking out the trash.