Wide Open Spaces

Yesterday—during our drive to Morrilton and then to Russellville and to Dardenelle and, finally, back to Hot Springs Village—I realized again how much I miss wide open spaces. I love looking at pastures and flat, open land that stretches to the horizon. Though there was not a lot of the latter along our route yesterday, there were enough broad expanses of land to rekindle my passion for open spaces.

As we drove south from Dardenelle, we saw evidence of the kind of work that creates open pastures in the forests of Arkansas. Enormous swaths of land that had been heavily wooded forests had been stripped bare by bulldozers and tractors and other heavy equipment. Logging trucks and monstrous saws outfitted to serve the interests of the timber industry had razed thick stands of pine and hardwood. On their heels had come machinery that smoothed the rough landscape left behind, creating smooth, rolling hills. I was at once thrilled to see open spaces and horrified to see evidence of clear-cutting. Human intervention had transformed some of the scenery along our route  from dark, forbidding forests to bucolic pastures. I hated to see the loss of forest land, on the one hand, but I was delighted to see the sky and gently rolling hills, on the other.

After trying, for quite a while, to process my mixed emotions at the metamorphosis of the landscape, I came to the conclusion that my disdain of human intervention relies not on its existence, but its scale. There was just too much deforestation. I don’t know whether the people responsible for it plan to plant more trees to replace the ones they took or destroyed. Perhaps they cut the forests to create farmland. Who knows? I shouldn’t condemn the transfiguration of the land without knowing why it was done. Perhaps pine beetle infestations were so bad that felling entire sections of the woodlands was the only solution to saving the bordering forests. I shouldn’t judge without knowing answers to many questions, some of which I might not even had considered yet.

But I’ve veered off course, as usual. Before I noticed big swaths of forests being cleared, I was struck by the pasture lands we saw as we skirted the Arkansas River. Those lands probably were never forests, at least not the thick mixed-wood forests. The silt deposited by the river during periodic floods, mixed with organic matter from plant and animal decomposition, made for nutrient-rich soils well-suited to farming in the flood plains. That is why the land is so open along the river now. It’s suited to crops. I’m sure some of the land was cleared along the river, but probably not as much as I saw in the forests. But, again, I’ve gone off course!

I miss the wide open spaces of parts of Texas. I miss the endless vistas in New Mexico and Arizona. My friends, Jim and Vicki, are spending a month in New Mexico at the moment. Photos from their journey probably sparked my recollections of how much I appreciate open land, but the drive yesterday reinforced my memories. And I felt a longing for those open spaces; a strong, almost overwhelming longing. I love the forests, but sometimes they seem confining, restrictive, overpowering in their darkness. I need the occasional shot of exhilaration provided by endless skies and 360-degree views of the horizon.

More writers than I care to try to recall have written either that travel opens one’s eyes or, conversely, that travel simply offers an unsatisfactory refuge from failing to make the most of one’s surroundings or home. In my view, neither view is entirely correct. Travel does open one’s eyes to the wonders of the world around us, but it doesn’t take the place of putting down roots (at least temporarily) to provide a physical and emotional anchor to a place. I suppose travel can be an escape, a refuge from reality, but if that’s all one allows it to be, it becomes of a prison of sorts; it throws the anchor overboard and allows it to drag us to the depths without experiencing what’s around us.

I have a history of growing restless of places after a period of time. I’ve never measured that time-frame precisely, but I think it averages about four to seven years. We’ve lived in Hot Springs Village for about five years. I’ve felt restless for a year or so. We lived in Dallas for many more than five years—17 years, I think. I was restless much of that time. We lived in Arlington for five or six years. We lived in Chicago for four years (Janine was there five). I don’t know how much of my restlessness was responsible for our moves, but I suspect it contributed to them.

Where is this going? I don’t know. I’ve often wished we weren’t tied down to a house, at least not by ownership. But I’ve always been unwilling to rent, thinking the idea of giving other people money to borrow their houses for a while was like throwing money away. Janine is more logical and rational. But she’s not as restless. I guess there’s a correlation there. When we were contemplating buying an RV and traveling around, I was as excited as I remember ever being. But the practicalities of RV life persuaded me it wasn’t for me. Yet I’ve never quite gotten over the idea of being a vagabond. Our friends Lana and Mel are about to embark on a seven-week adventure, traveling west and northwest. Hearing them describe their plans triggered my wanderlust again, I think. And Jim’s and Vicki’s cross-country house-sitting did the same.

I guess I need to get over this wanderlust. Janine doesn’t share it, at least not to the extent that it consumes me from time to time. Road trips, even short day-trip versions, tend to exacerbate my desire to hit the road for longer adventures. Sickness and the attendant doctor visits and tests and the like bring me back to reality, making me feel an intense loathing for the real world.

Perhaps I should simply find documentaries about road trips throughout the U.S. and try to live vicariously through the central characters. I’m sure that would do nothing, though, but make my lust even more intense. Ach!

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to Wide Open Spaces

  1. I am glad to hear your experience of New Mexico is like mine have been. It’s a spectacular state, “enchanting” in every sense of the word. Your idea about Anthony Bourdain and craft beverages has merit! I will self-medicate in that way, proclaiming myself Dr. John in the process!

  2. Traveling Jim says:

    I will say, amigo, that New Mexico is truly a unique place. I didn’t imagine how “enchanting” it actually would be. The drive from Santa Fe to Albuquerque was so much nicer than I would have imagined. While we will be working during the weekdays in April, we will definitely make the most of this trip!

    I quite understand your wanderlust. Perhaps some Anthony Bourdain while enjoying a craft beverage or three will help you with that… In case you didn’t know, I’m not a doctor; just a guy making a suggestion… Be well!

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