While traveling through seven states, I was reading The Art Of Travel by Alain de Botton, a charming book full of surprises.
While traveling, or thinking about traveling, de Botton considered how other writers interpreted their travel experiences. His guides included the French poet Charles Baudelaire, writer Gustave Flaubert, the American artist Edward Hopper, the Prussian naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, and William Wordsworth. De Botton was both traveling and reading with an abundance of curiosity, even considering the machinations of curiosity:
“Curiosity might be pictured as being made up of chains of small questions extending outwards, sometimes over huge distances, from a central hub composed of a few blunt, large questions…” When De Botton returned home he began questioning his experiences while traveling: “What, then, is a travelling mind-set? Receptivity might be said to be its chief characteristic. Receptive, we approach new places with humility. We carry with us no rigid ideas about what is or is not interesting….” Reading The Art Of Travel while on a multi-state road trip, de Botton has been a guide who scrutinized how we interact with and interpret our surroundings while transiting new places.
Today was our last day on the road. We left Ontario, Oregon on the border with Idaho, and after about two-and-a-half hours driving, going through tiny towns, following the Malheur River for some time, and crossing the Drinkwater and Stinkingwater Passes, we stopped at the city park in Burns, Oregon for a picnic lunch. Large poplars ringed the park, and playground equipment reminiscent of when we were kids (teeter totters, a merry-go-round, and two enormous slides). The lower branches of the cottonwoods had been whacked off so climbing would have been very difficult, and the effect was that the trees seemed more structural than tree-like. Eating sandwiches at a picnic table, the sun was warm but the breezes cool. The rest of the drive was uneventful, the scenery gradually changing from sagebrush—in some areas truly a “sea of sagebrush”—to scattered junipers, to finally, around the Badlands Wilderness Area, juniper forest. By the time we reached Brothers, a very tiny town, I had been driving since Burns and was craving a caffeinated drink. We stopped at the Brothers Stage Stop, a cafe and post office with gas pumps, where, while waiting for the proprietor to emerge from the kitchen, I noticed the rack of postcards and picked out postcards of cowboys branding a calf and of an old water-pumping windmill, both scenes you could very well see, with luck, in the vicinity of Brothers.
We are home now, and everything is pretty much as we left it. My friend Abby picked the tomatoes last night probably only a few hours before the first hard frost. The cherry tomato that had grown as high as the eaves is now brown and drooping. The smoke that we drove through at the beginning of our trip still hangs in the mountain valleys and obscures the view of the big peaks. After unpacking the car, Chuck and I walked to the top of Overturf Butte and saw the trees below, along the Deschutes River, are turning yellow. The TV news weatherman seems to think that the weather will stay the same for a week, or two, or three, and on the news were scenes of the first snowfall in Fargo, North Dakota, a city we drove through when the weather was warm, last week.
Thanks everyone for visiting my blog the last couple weeks, and for the comments and “likes”!
Alain de Botton. The Art Of Travel. Virgin Books (2002), pp. 116 and 242.