I already had my fill of traveling through freeways connecting cities and towns just within the past two weeks. Last week was that 45-minute distance between Ruston and Monroe in Louisiana. This week got me hooked into the 6-hour distance between Toronto and Montreal (for the nth time!). Oh, I haven’t counted inbound and outbound trips to airports in Monroe, Atlanta and Toronto as well. There are other people out there who traveled a great deal more than I did, but this is nothing new for me regardless.
So there’s that tendency to ignore the landscapes occupying those spaces between points of origin and destination. People usually sleep or mind their own business or work throughout the whole journey. The thought reminds me of the railway switcher guy telling (Antoine) de Saint-Exupéry’s little prince that only the children know what they want (read the book for context…that short snippet tells a lot!). Being little ol’ me, I clutch on to my “rag doll” and “peek through train (or bus, or airplane) windows” to see which spaces I have to see, pass through, and leave behind. I still find it fascinating that putting this in perspective brings a lot of questions in mind.
An example: While on the bus ride to Montreal yesterday, I was so blessed to catch a glimpse of a mother bird teaching a baby bird how to fly. Seeing a mother bird drop her baby to teach her self-reliance in that snap of a moment is so priceless. I wonder how the pair is doing right now. What else did the mother bird do to be a good parent to her offspring? Which tree are they staying at? How many animals have that specific tree accommodated at this point and which animals are they? How much change had that specific tree witnessed throughout its entire life? Did it witness the building of Highway 401? The cutting down of its fellow brother and sister trees? How many vehicles did it see pass by throughout the years?
Another example: I see scattered houses throughout the Ontario and Quebec countryside along Highway 401/20. Who lives there? Do they speak English or French or a native language? Having the freeway in full view, how is it to live in a place that seduces people into the idea of transience and yet decides to stay put? When are those houses built? Which voices and feet have these soils heard and carried hundreds of years ago? Were they British voices? French? Iroqouis? If I would step on this patch of land, would it recognize me as one of its own or as a foreigner, as an immigrant settler?
Another example: The weather in northern Louisiana last week was really humid with a mix of rain and summer sunshine. During my first day there, I’m not sure if it rained a bit when Mel Mobley picked me up from my Monroe hotel on the way to Ruston. I’m pretty sure that the trees are somewhat different though from the ones in Highway 401 (Ontario)…the forests there remind me of tropical greenery. But what struck me is the absence of accessible means to traverse these freeways going from one town to another. How do people rely so much on owning cars there? How normal is it for people to just drive here and there, within town and out of town, and in what frequency? What’s the worth of staying two hours away from some place and not think about, say, the convenience of public transport? In the long run, do the landscapes affect their way of seeing the road beyond the means to go from one place to another? Do people living in these intimate, quaint spaces even think about hitting the road and drive all the way without any destination in mind? Do I see myself living in a small town, resisting the seductive urges of roads and highways and living along the land I planted myself in?
I remember stopping over somewhere in a small rural town named Prescott in Ontario with friends on the way to Montreal. Upon first impression, besides having a white majority population, the town has a very rich history, being one of the witnesses of the French occupation and the Loyalist movement (given its proximity from the New York state border) along Canada’s colonial history. As I was breathing in the fresh air, the scents of the St. Lawrence river, and enjoying the gentle breeze that locals seem to enjoy during sunny seasons, I asked myself that question on whether I can see myself living in a small town like this one or not. Maybe I could, I thought. Previously living in a suburb area near the Philippine capital for around a decade and a half, maybe it won’t be any different. Maybe this constant restlessness can be contained by settling for something encapsulating a place that’s neither here nor there…and maybe freeways and roads will no longer arouse my itching desires of horizons and distances. Who knows?