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“Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than moving planes, ships, or trains…”  -Alain de Botton

But what about cars?

This morning, driving along the interstate at seventy-five miles per hour, the uniformity and ennui of eastern Montana gradually gave way to the Badlands, a landscape of mesas and bluffs with sedimentary striations and slopes deeply grooved by the forces of erosion. The colors were variations of buff and gray, and sometimes a red caused by coal burning underground that melted or fused layers of shale and sandstone.

North Dakota Badlands

Driving on an interstate highway is different from traveling by plane or train because of your close proximity to other vehicles. Pass a tractor-trailer rig and the car sways from the whoosh of air. Pass on a corner with concrete barriers to your left and you think about speed, distance, and time as you grip the steering wheel and you are glad when you pull ahead of the truck. The landscape certainly flows past the car window but the concentration required for driving limits the meditative introspection that you might find if you were traveling by train or plane

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Sept. 25. 2012

At the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the North Dakota Badlands, we abandoned our fast dash on the interstate to slowly drive along the park road and picnic in a glade of trees near where buffalo grazed. Driving into the park, we saw prairie dogs gamboling around mounded-up tunnel entrances. A coyote trotted through the prairie dog town but by then the prairie dogs had all darted into their burrows.

“…There is an almost quaint correlation between what is before our eyes and the thoughts we are able to have in our heads: large thoughts at times requiring large views, and new thoughts, new places….” -Alain de Botton

The deciduous trees were yellow and orange as if they were having one last party before winter, and the views were certainly large.

We left the Badlands and Theodore Roosevelt National Park and returned to the fast-moving interstate and a discussion of where we would spend the night. It’s safe to say that introspection and large ideas were absent until a series of lakes appeared that reflected sky and a line of skeletal trees–clearly unlike views of the Badlands we had seen earlier in the afternoon. Even a quick glance revealed snowy egrets, herons, and many ducks and geese. My thoughts turned to imagining launching a canoe into a lake of reflections.

A Lake in North Dakota along I-94

“Introspective reflections that might otherwise be liable to stall are helped along by the flow of landscape…” -Alain de Botton.


Alain de Botton. The Art Of Travel. Vintage Books (2002), p. 54.