In which our intrepid hero contemplates nature and navels…
One of the things I love about my driving excursions in Ohio is the feeling of freedom that they give me. I can drive anywhere, do anything; I have no deadlines or schedules or things I must do. The only pressure at all in that regard is the pressure to wake up early enough in the morning to catch some good light. Sometimes it seems to me that this sort of freedom is disappearing in modern society. I don’t mean this in any sort of Glenn Beck/right-wing/libertarian way at all. I am not talking about politics but personal freedoms.
Let me illustrate what I mean. I think far fewer children simply play than when I was a child. These days, it seems that all too many parents channel their children’s “playtime” into organized activities, like team sports and day camps and so forth. I have to say that when I was a kid, if you wanted to play, you walked down the block and knocked on the door of some other house and got the kid who lived in that house to come out and play. We played “cops and robbers,” or “pirates” or “cowboys and Indians,” and we played games like hide and seek, and we played sports, like baseball or basketball. We rode our bikes all over the neighborhood. I never once was on an organized soccer team or anything like that. We didn’t need those things to have fun. These days, however, it seems like organized activities are all parents think about—this is certainly true for the parents I know. And those few parents who do seem to allow their children the chance to simply play do so like they were East German border guards. One set of parents I know would never let their children play outside—on their own block!—unless one of the parents was outside watching them.
I confess that I get very crotchety about this. My parents would set limits, which varied as I got older, typically making sure I knew when to be back, what geographical limits I had, and so forth. But then they would simply let us play. To me that seems to superior to choosing an organized activity for your kids and making them engaged in that supervised, constrained activity.
Where has that freedom gone? The freedom to simply be a kid?
In which our intrepid hero is reminded that the world is always changing…
It’s amazing how very different we can feel depending on whether or not we are going somewhere or returning from somewhere. The leaving is filled with expectation—hopefully a happy, excited sort of expectation, but we all know we sometimes leave towards destinations we dread. The return, though, is usually completely different. Sometimes we are simply anxious to get home and it doesn’t even matter what is around us—we have only that one thought in mind: GET HOME. Sometimes we are more relaxed about it and can enjoy the journey, understanding that at its end is the comfort and familiarity of home. I remember once, when I was in high school, returning home in the darkness from some interminable bus ride from somewhere in west Texas. I had a Walkman with me and was playing Simon & Garfunkel’s Concert in Central Park. When the song “Homeward Bound” played, it hit me like a ton of bricks. As I’ve grown older (and am now pretty close to the half century mark), the song has only become more powerful to me and if I ever hear it while I am coming back from a long trip I get quite melancholic.
In which our intrepid hero encounters dead trees, dead cars and dead buildings…
One of the most interesting things about taking back-country drives is that the scale of everything changes. The distance scale, for example, grows enormously. Ohio is a relatively small state, and I am centrally located within it, so theoretically I can reach even the most distant parts of the state in three and a half hours. But that is making a bee-line on a highway. Once you start driving on curvy, back-country roads, especially driving relatively slowly to spot potential subjects for photographs (and stopping on occasion to actually take them), 20 miles somehow becomes a great distant, not a short jaunt. Sixty miles is a huge distance. On the other hand, the time scale slows down. Because you are in no particular hurry, and paying attention to your surroundings rather than the clock, time passes quickly for you. The combination of these two means that you can spend many, many hours in a vehicle and discover that you have really never driven more than 60 miles away from your starting point (though your total mileage may be much greater).
In which our intrepid hero discovers the site of an American Icarus…
The oil and natural gas boom here in Ohio is interesting. “Fracking,” as the process is called, promises huge amounts of natural gas, with all the accompanying benefits, yet offers possible dangers that range from earthquakes to drinking water contamination. Properly regulated, the industry is something I could not really oppose, but in Republican-controlled Ohio, one can never guarantee that anything will be regulated at all. All too often, Ohio learns the hard way. The other reason I am cautiously supportive of fracking is that the deposits are in the poorest area of the state, Appalachian Ohio, which needs every bit of help it can get, although it won’t be the individual property owners who lease out their mineral rights who will really rake in the money.
In which our intrepid hero llooks at llamas…
There are different types of driving and the way you feel with each type is very different. For example, one type of driving is Getaway Driving. Now, this is a type of driving with which I luckily have no experience, but I assume it is very distinct. Mostly, we experience Driving from Here to There; that’s what we are familiar with. It can make you anxious or relaxed, depending on the circumstances. What I’ve discovered is that my excursions produce a very different set of feelings than Driving from Here to There. First, because you do not have a final destination, you never feel, not even at the beginning, any particular sense of urgency. There is no end goal; the drive itself is one of the desired results. Moreover, the drive takes on a different intensity, because the environment I am in matters more. I am not simply alert so that I do not run into another car or off the side of the road. I am actively scanning my surroundings—looking for something interesting to photograph. So I drive leisurely but very intently. It is a good feeling, but it is definitely not the sort of zen state that you can reach while Driving from Here to There, where the middle doesn’t matter very much.