“The country that is nowhere is the real home.” Thomas Merton
It was a summer and fall for road trips. Always a long way to anywhere from our home on San Juan Island in the northwest corner of the contiguous United States between the US mainland and Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.
On one trip we were riding high to Napa Valley for our daughter’s wedding. A couple months later, our destination was a writing workshop at Esalen Institute in Big Sur. A shame they weren’t scheduled closer together.
But in each instance I compiled a list from the road signs we passed that gave me a sense of place so thorough, that by the time we arrived I was sure I had lived there. In one life or another.
Wolf Creek, Coyote Pass, Red Bluff, Crater Lake, Whiskeytown Cavern, The Oregon Trail
Davy Crockett kept peering around each bend. Rin Tin Tin ran at full speed alongside our car. All the Bonanza and Raw Hide westerns of my childhood came back to me. I could hear the theme songs. The John Steinbeck classics I was assigned as a student. And the Wallace Stegner and Ivan Doig novels I enjoy to this day.
I know this land, I thought. And the land knows me.
Rogue River, Antelope Valley, Gold Hill, Black Butte Summit and Jumpoff Joe Creek
Like triggers, the road signs flying by me could become the bones of future stories. I collected them as fodder for a time when, back at my writing table, I will have the luxury of imagining being there. For now, I am all eyes.
Any story set in the West would want to pull from these: Crazy Horse Canyon, Echo Valley Road, Antelope Blvd., Rogue Valley, Gray’s Harbor, Saddle Mountain, and Dismal Nitch.
The creeks have it, I notice: Wolf Creek, Canyon Creek, Elk Horn Creek, Rock Creek, Medicine Creek and Bean Creek. Pass Creek Road, Hooker Creek Road, Flume Creek Road and Ditch Creek Road.
Creek is a West Coast word. In the East, where I came from, it’s called a brook or stream. The word river, of course, runs all over the map.
Blue Slough Rd., Preachers Slough Rd. Slough is another Western word. In the East it might be marsh or tideland.
When I write something sweet like Lassie, I will be ready with Sunny Valley, Little Muddy Creek, West Fork Dairy, Applegate Creek Trail, Cottage Grove and Easy Street.
A writer on the road may be taking, by necessity, a leave of absence from her work but is gathering material for other works.
And like Interstate 5, the work never ends.