Mountain, bayou, desert… Passing through on the long road south and west, seeing what you can, the brief view, wishing sometimes you could stop the drive and really see, really touch and smell and taste…
We had met up with Richard in Charlottesville, Virginia. Rich is Leighanne’s brother, and together we’d be driving to New Mexico and beyond. Before we packed his vehicle with our own belongings, we drove south of Charlottesville and absorbed (and tasted) a bit of Blue Ridge Mountain Americana: Hilltop Winery and nearby Blue Mountain Brewery– great ways to beat oppressive summer heat– followed by a baseball game in which Richard’s son, Sam, was a coach for a good team of 13 year-old sluggers (what heat these guys endured!).
The southern road through Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi was surprisingly green and leafy and, best of all, significantly cooler than the mid-Atlantic states. I never thought I’d revel in notions of escaping the overwhelming heat and humidity by traveling south in summer! Of course, we could do that in comfort of an air-conditioned vehicle.
My introduction to Lousiana was pleasant. Instead of slamming into jungle heat and pictures of dwindling wetlands, we encountered rain, big woods and cooler air. I thought of my rivertop country and realized that sometimes you’ve got to define your home ground by also including what appears to be its opposite environment and conditions. Looking at the river bottoms as we skirted New Orleans and crossed the Mississippi, I figured I couldn’t be any farther from home and still have New York/Pennsylvania water in the system.
As we crossed the Atchafalaya River basin I began to notice large quantities of egrets, the great and the cattle, near the waterways. Cajun country. I also noted a flock of wood storks, large white birds with black-lined wings, a first life-bird for me on this trip. We pulled off the interstate at Welsh, Louisiana and ordered gumbo and shrimp and crawfish “Po’ Boys” at the Cajun Tales Restaurant. I’d recommend these tasty morsels to anybody following the southern road.
The Louisiana highway is a mecca for casino and “Love Shack” aficionados, Christian symbology to keep us pushing right along to Texas (“Land of the Free,” but don’t get me started on that). We stopped in San Antonio to visit with a relative of Leighanne and Richard’s and to catch up with some complicated family history and to just relax a bit. With the freeway sprawl behind us, the long road through the big rocks and cactus loomed. I didn’t count the miles we drove through Texas, but I’m told it was 800-plus. Nearing El Paso, we could see across the Rio Grande into Mexico as a monsoon thunderstorm loomed. Finally, with a northward turn along the Franklin Mountains, we edged our way toward Alamogordo. I was more than ready for New Mexico.