Musings & Meditations

Highways & Byways

Posted in Travel by Pam Keesey on May 29, 2008

When my plans for Memorial Day weekend disintegrated, I knew I had to do something, but I wasn’t sure what. A quick internet search turned up a cheap ticket to Phoenix….

Phoenix? What was I going to do in Phoenix? A few internet searches later, I found inspiration by way of Route 66, and a plan suddenly began to fall into place.

In trying to make sense of the emotions with which I’ve been flooded on a daily basis since Jenny’s death, I’ve renewed and more seriously pursued my interest in Buddhist meditation. As a part of that journey, I’ve also been feeling a pull to get out on my own, to get into the out of doors, and to clear my mind to the best of my ability. (If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend Awake in the Wild: Mindfulness in Nature as a Path of Self-Discovery by Mark Coleman.) I thought the woods was my calling, but I was suddenly overcome with the desire to be in the desert, to be out in the dry heat and blazing sun, to be alone with my thoughts with nothing to concern me or distract me but the open road ahead.

Route 66 is open road like no other. The route was officially named in 1926, and linked small towns that previously had no thoroughfare starting in Chicago, Illinois and moving south and west through to Santa Monica, California. The significance of such an endeavor, and the impact that Route 66 had on the life, economy, and cultural landscape that is the United States is well documented in books, movies, and music, not the least of which is John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. Route 66 was the road to liberation, transformation, and reinvention for untold generations from the inception of this first national highway in 1926 to its official decommission in 1984 when the last stretch of old Route 66 in Williams, Arizona was bypassed by I-40.

Having spent a considerable amount of time on the road throughout my life, I know that there’s a soothing quality to driving, to following the blacktop as it stretches ahead into the distant horizon; a quality that lends itself to getting lost in thought, to drifting, to meditating, and, hopefully, to redirecting a life that seems to have gone off track.

With its incredible history, and the lingering spirit of the many people whose lives were irrevocably changed by their journey on the Mother Road, I knew it was exactly what I needed to do and where I needed to be.

Arizona and New Mexico have maintained much of the original charm of old Route 66, passing through national monuments, and towns made flush by traffic, and then devastated anew by alignments that bypassed them completely, isolating them yet again.

And there’s simply something magical about the desert. I’ve found myself talking with friends old and new about the experience of the desert, especially in times of crisis, that lends itself to healing. I, for one, found it utterly fantastic.

There’s a liquidity to grief, a seeping wetness that translates into a physical sensation of swelling that is inescapable in the depth of that kind of sorrow. There is also a healing quality, a purging, a cleansing: salt and water flushing through the system clearing out the impurities, a visceral process that mirrors the psychic process of shedding the old and creating the new.

But so many tears, so much weeping, so much sobbing. The arid climate of the desert called to me, not only because of my need of sunlight, but also to start the process of drying out. Funny, isn’t that what they call it when drunks end up in detox? Drunk on sorrow. That’s how I’ve been feeling.

The vast, open landscape also mirrored how I feel inside. Having been laid bare by my grief, I find myself open — wide open, and not always comfortably — to other possibilities, a fertile field and a great opportunity to create life anew. Even in the dry, desiccated landscape of the desert, there is life. In the midst of one of the harshest terrains known to humankind is a hidden world teeming with vibrant, verdant forms of life if only one stops long enough to look and to see.

There is hope in life that survives in the face of tragic loss.

And there is hope to be found in the images, thoughts, and revelations of a road trip in a time of crisis. I found myself lost in reverie in the long stretches of driving and quiet reflection. I solved the world’s and my own problems more than once only to realize that nothing is that easily resolved, and tossing my now obsolete resolutions out the window. At the same time, I also knew I was headed in the right direction, whatever direction that might be.

Tears were shed, sun was had, and vitamin D deficiencies were processed. I still don’t know what I want to do with my life from this point on, and I’m still struggling with many of the same feelings I had before I left. But the emotional log jam is shifting, and there is something to be said for that.

The image that kept coming to me thoughout the journey wasn’t the snake shedding its skin, the symbol of renewal that I thought I was seeking, but the ouroboros, the symbol of unity, of the cyclical nature of life, death, and rebirth that kept coming to me, which is probably closer to the real connection to the universe that I am searching for.

Of course, one four-day, 2323-mile journey isn’t going to heal all the wounds or repair the broken track, but it is a start, and one that I want to share with those nearest and dearest, and with those who happen to stumble upon these words.

Day 1: Friends, Family, and the Open Road (Photostream)
Day 2: Getting My Kicks
Day 3: Yesterday’s Gone
Day 4: Communing

My Route 66 @

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