Fun fact: There are no buffalo in the USA. There has never been buffalo in the US. The animals we call buffalo are bison.
Space. I’m experiencing the multifaceted dimensions of that word. Beginning with the literal space to move around, living full-time in the truck or RV with two dogs and a husband. To be honest, I’ve enjoyed that aspect tremendously, even when 125 pounds of wet dog greet me with cuddles. Last year, backpacking in Shenandoah, we elbowed and kneed each other all night. This trip, we sleep on a super comfortable, queen-sized bed, resetting our personal space meter. The lack of space in the kitchen area is frustrating. Even with the island in the middle, or perhaps because of the island, hard to say having no other experience to draw on. The good news is I can’t help cook dinner when it’s not my turn.
I don’t enjoy sharing space with everyone else. At home, there are four acres around me, expect when I’m working in Manhattan. On this trip, everywhere there are people, driving or exploring, making noise or walking dogs. Lack of social space is a constant drain on my Bostonian-bred battery; I need solitude to stay charged. Otherwise, there is a painful low hum of anxiety.
Overall, the social experience has been surprisingly positive, even yesterday on our tourist-filled hiking attempt. The seven-mos-old puppy is uncomfortable with – and barks at – everyone and everything new or loud or too close. Neither of us was calm walking a narrow path amidst a parade of families and other dogs. At one point, there were approximately 15 kids crowding up wanting to pet the dogs. Neither dog enjoyed that and I was frustrated with people reaching out to touch the dogs without asking. He is learning quickly though and many people were helpful, some tossing treats from afar until he understood that people equals yummy food. Anyway, when we turned onto a side trail, heading deeper into the Black Hills and further from people, we all began enjoying the day more.
Today, we are delighting in a rainy Sunday solitude break. Let it rain! My husband is listening to soccer and editing travel photos while I write. Carlos Nakai is playing on the stereo, a bluetooth player with in-roof speakers is both serious luxury and noise cancelling. The focused rest time is good for us all.
The lack of mental space, for writing, thinking and working during the first first days of traveling also drained me. The miles, rain and logistics consumed all my bandwidth. Very little work got done, though I’d planned to do a couple hours per day, reasonable given the hours I spend on the road. The restless energy that accumulated must be what runners feel when they don’t run. In the evening we are too tired to focus, even on reading. We do the NYTimes mini-crossword together and fall asleep.
As we drove from the eastern US into the west, the space around us expanded in a soul-renewing way. The roads are wider, the vistas reach farther and even in crowded spaces there is a sense of spaciousness. I love the west. When I moved out here, I dropped tensions and emotional baggage I’d carried all my life, though I wasn’t aware of them. I saw this happen to everyone who visited. We are nourished and protected by nature and big sky. Since moving back east, I miss this space like a longing in the heart for a dead loved one. I am grateful we are here, even if only for a couple weeks.
My husband (who has never taken a US road trip) was sad to see how America uses its space. He was struck by how much of the lush fertile farmland is covered by two only crops: corn and soy. Little of either are actually eaten as real food. He was delighted to see a tiny kitchen garden at a KOA in Minnesota. He also enjoyed Bison standing in the road, uncontested by New Yorkers beeping at them.
Lastly, there is my awakening understanding of how little I occupy my own intellectual and creative space. Reacting to a professional manspread, if you will. As I expand, I see that I’m often in a defensive crouch, practicing ways to argue for more room, crowded into the corner of my work life – never really feeling safe out in the open. I suspect most women feel this way and frankly, it’s tedious. I hope to bring home with me a spaciousness that transcends the literal and continue to occupy a more expressive and expansive sense of myself in the world.
Meanwhile, tomorrow, Montana.