Part 2, of pyramids and rice paddies
This is the second part of a series that describes a trip we took several years ago. If you have not read the first part, click here.
picture borrowed from Superstock.
In the morning we woke refreshed and ready for the next adventure. The sun was shining and the day promised to be warm and humid. As I climbed out of the tent I noticed the well-dressed man in the truck was still there, still sitting in his seat. While I was looking a nicely dressed woman sat up; she had apparently been sleeping in the back of the truck. Instead of a strange stalker, I saw a middle aged couple crossing the country cheaply, somewhat like us, sleeping in campsites instead of hotels. It occurred to me that whenever people do a thing that is different, unexpected, we judge them fearfully. What a shame, what pressure we put on others to conform. I wondered how many different and interesting people we would meet on this trip. We might all live in the USA, but we can live vastly different lives.
Packing up and eating breakfast took longer than I expected, and by the time we drove towards the Memphis Bridge I was hot and sweaty. We had hoped to walk along the Mississippi River, but all we got to see were quick views as we drove towards the bridge. I would like to go back and see this city again someday, an idea I thought over and over on this trip.
Memphis has a glass pyramid shaped building beside the shore of the Mississippi, and as we drove it would appear and disappear behind other buildings. Anna would say, “Look, a pyramid.” We would miss it, and wait, look away, just as she would see it again. She pulled out her camera. Finally as we turned onto the bridge we all saw the giant building, gleaming in the sun.
We approached the Mississippi river, and along with the wave of traffic we drove onto the bridge. I was excited; this was the traditional crossing into the west. How many books had I read about this long river? As we reached the center of the bridge a new feeling washed over me, a chill. We were passing a turning point, we had to finish the trip now. I slowed the car, almost afraid of crossing this river, the symbol of entering the west. It felt like we pushed through an invisible barrier, but once across, we moved forward easily. As I rolled into Arkansas I relaxed, peace filled, we were really on our way. The roads were wider, and the cars moved easily, with more space.
I had no idea what to expect of Arkansas, but we were completely surprised to see rice fields. Then Laura cried out, “Look, Bugs Bunny has been in there.” Out in the fields beside the highway was what could only be described as bugs bunny style raised tunnels weaving back and forth across the fields. We all laughed. Certainly there was a purpose for these raised tunnels of dirt, but we had no idea what it was. I wasn’t even certain they were rice paddies until I passed a sign extolling the virtues of Arkansas rice. We had just crossed the Mississippi that morning and already I was learning things about my own country, seeing new sights.
image borrowed from wiki links.
Our drive took on its familiar rhythm. The front seat child had the job of navigator and we all took turns choosing the music. We did not need a GPS to cross our country. We used maps, and as the kids helped read those maps and plan the trip, they gained valuable skills.
Halfway through Arkansas the landscape changed from flat to rolling mountains. We pulled off at a viewing area to enjoy the view. We thought about lunch, but decided to press on, and to give me a break Joseph drove. Joseph was just 16 and had his drivers permit. Riding with a 16 year old new driver isn’t exactly relaxing, but I was determined to act relaxed and to take advantage of the break. I remember an older man who asked Joseph if he liked driving. The man had said, “I hated driving with my mother. She was always so terrified she made me miserable.” Listening, I resolved to not be like that, but I’m not sure I had achieved that goal. When Joseph drove I switched from a happy go lucky adventurer to a stressed and fearful old woman. Today, once Joseph pulled onto the highway and finally settled down to a driving speed, I got out my diary and began to write. If I pretended to be nonchalant I would be. I think I did a pretty good job too, writing maybe 5 lines in 2 hours.
Our plan was to stop at rest areas for sandwiches each day. Oklahoma was close so we waited to eat lunch at the border, but when we crossed into the new state there was no rest area, or pullover, or welcome center. We drove on, getting hungrier and hungrier. Joseph and I stopped to switch places. It was hot out there near the end of June.
The kids scanned the map for a rest area with no luck, then I had an idea. We’ll just pull off and tailgate, just eat out of the back of the car in a parking lot. We exited the highway and the parking lot we found was outside of McDonalds. I lifted the tailgate and we dug around for our lunch things in the oppressive heat. Before I knew what had happened we were all sitting in the air-conditioned building eating greasy hamburgers. The adventure of the discovery of our country was replaced by a shiny fast food joint.
Back on the road I began to dream about our evening’s campsite. I had picked a place off of the highway on the other side of Oklahoma City because it had a lake and sounded a little more private than a KOA. I hoped we would have time to swim, reheat our still unheated chili and maybe have a campfire. We drove on and on, passed Oklahoma City, and drove some more. Finally we turned off the highway to Lake Eufala, and drove some more, on and on along the endless highway. An hour later we reached the State Park, paid our fee, and drove through the woods. At first I was disappointed in the campsite. There were few trees, the ground looked eroded and hard. We chose our site, the kids set up the tent while I got everything ready for supper. I set up the cook stove, turned on the gas, and heard nothing. I had heated water for coffee this morning, but now there was no fuel. Deeply disappointed we ate another cold supper of peanut butter and jelly. The campsite was drab and poor, the air stuffy and hot, and our supper was sandwiches.
After supper we walked down to the sandy shore and put our feet in the water. A few campers were swimming. The water looked cool and refreshing, and we decided it was time to change clothes and cool off.
The bathhouse was full of bugs and the doors wouldn’t shut. It was hot and sticky, making it difficult to put on the bathing suits in the stalls without falling down. The floors were dirty, and the entire dressing process left us in a tired and grumpy mood. We walked across the rocks, dropped our things in the tent and entered the lake. The cool water felt wonderful after the hot dry day. We floated and played in the water, and slowly the scenery changed. The sky seemed softer, the mountains nestled close and even the neighboring campers seemed friendlier.
We ended the evening sitting on our picnic table enjoying the view of the lake and the mountains. Joseph played his guitar, Anna and I read and Laura played with a new friend. I soon realized all the other campers were related, and friends and cousins were driving in and out all night. Beer cans were popped, music played from car stereos and visitors greeted each other loudly. I had driven over an hour off the highway for the peacefulness of a remote campground, and now we were relaxing in the middle of a family reunion, of sorts. When darkness fell we retreated to the tent, and involved ourselves in another UNO championship. We had our cards and our circle of light in the tent, surrounded by the wild night of music, cars, and the laughter of strangers. The evening had not gone as planned, but it had still been nice, and we were on our adventure!