I love road trips. I love watching the landscape change from rolling central Texas hills to desert mesas within a matter of hours. And then eventually those mesas turn into actual mountains if you drive long enough in the right direction.
It feels like a magic trick. You get in your car in one place and hours later end up somewhere completely different. Same car, same you, different everything else.
I have a series of pictures taken over the last decade of my kids buckled up in their seats in our minivan for some long journey or another. We’ve had the same model minivan all of those years, so the interior of the car remains the same, but the kids change drastically. They start out in car seats and boosters and gradually morph into the almost fully grown people they are today. The most recent one is from a month ago when they are 14, 12 and 9. Same car. Same me. Different everything else.
When it comes to my kids getting older, I always think of that Matthew McConaughey line from Dazed and Confused–except in reverse: they keep getting older, and I stay the same age. Time seems to be going in fast-forward for them, whereas I am on pause.
Time is strange. You can’t see it. You can’t touch it. But you can see what it does to a place, to a person, to a landscape. A few weeks ago we drove from Austin to Colorado by way of Carlsbad, NM. We visited Carlsbad Caverns National Park, which is essentially a giant cave. Do you know how caverns happen? Water + time. Carlsbad Cavern was formed by an inland sea, which existed 265 million years ago. So, at one point over TWO HUNDRED MILLION YEARS AGO there used to be a sea in the middle of New Mexico. Just to put things in perspective, New Mexico has been a state for a little over 100 years. Our idea of New Mexico as this land of Georgia O’Keefe, turquoise jewelry and adobe airbnbs feels very real, very grounded in reality, but there is a whole nother version of New Mexico that existed a long, long, long time before Santa Fe and Taos and Breaking Bad. Visiting Carlsbad National Park was like walking around in a giant fossil–a cavernous reminder of how small our little dot is in a much bigger, much longer story.
This time of year, we are acutely aware of the passage of time. We don’t really pay that much attention the rest of the year, but maybe we should. Because time is a constant that is always shaping us, weathering us, and changing us for better or worse. Was there an ocean in you that is now a cavern? That didn’t happen overnight. It happened minute by minute, drop by drop–the way stalactites form.
The beginning of a new year reminds us to take note of where we are on our timeline, in our story, and where we want to go. Some people make resolutions, some people set intentions. Really what they are choosing are the next stops on their journey.
I think that’s one reason I love road trips–they provide a rare opportunity to actually feel my body moving through space in a sped-up exaggerated way. Because we are all always going somewhere–whether we realize it or not. The clock is always ticking. We are all on a road trip all of the time.
In the Billy Collins poem “Velocity” the speaker is trying to write on a train. Instead of writing, he sketches a picture of a windblown motorcyclist. He compares himself to to the motorcyclist, as he is also in motion on the train, which is “pulling him toward Omaha and whatever lay beyond Omaha…
We must always look at things
from the point of view of eternity,
the college theologians used to insist,
from which, I imagine, we would all
appear to have speed lines trailing behind us
as we rush along the road of the world,
as we rush down the long tunnel of time–
the biker, of course, drunk on the wind,
but also the man reading by a fire,
speed lines coming off his shoulders and his book,
and the woman standing on a beach
studying the curve of horizon,
even the child asleep on a summer night,
speed lines flying from the posters of her bed,
from the white tips of the pillow cases,
and from the edges of her perfectly motionless body.”
(From “Velocity” by Billy Collins)
We all have speed lines coming off our shoulders. They are there whether we feel ourselves moving or not. Two hundred sixty-five million years ago New Mexico was an ocean. Everything is always on its way to becoming something new.