Our dog Luke follows us around the house, getting under foot and then scuttling anxiously out of the way as Alan and I stack suitcases on the landing. Then, Luke positions himself in front of the stairway leading down to the garage where we are beginning to get the car packed up.
We are going on a cross-country road trip.
Lawn furniture has been put away —usually a depressing end-of-summer activity but this year made tolerable by the anticipation of a trip to Maine—the house is clean, and a young neighbor is in charge of picking up the mail and watering the plants while we are gone.
On the morning of our departure, just to get Luke out of the way, I open the back door to the car. He jumps in, and spends the next several hours panting and excitedly watching preparations, secure in the knowledge that he is coming too.
Finally we are off. Our small Subaru Crosstrek lurches down the driveway, the outside loaded with a kayak, rocket box and two mountain bikes, while the inside is packed with suitcases, sleeping bags, coolers of food, masks and a probably a year’s supply of hand sanitizer.
With the exception of a few short, local trips, we haven’t been anywhere since at least the beginning of the year. Now it’s a different world out there. We carry the (negative) results of our COVID test with us, required for our stay in Maine. And we soon discover that everyone along our journey — or almost everyone — is masked up.
Somewhere in Iowa, a few hundred miles along now, we finally slow down, getting off the highway for a leisurely ride along U.S. Highway 6. Fields of gold and burnt orange undulate away from the two-lane route.
A dirt road we turn off on crosses narrow train tracks, then climbs steeply up to the top of a hill. From here the view below sweeps past a farm that could be out of a Grandma Moses painting, with red barn, black and white cows grazing in a pasture and rolling fields. A thick line of oak trees borders the property in the distance.
I think: “America The Beautiful.”
“O beautiful, for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain …”
A few days later in Pennsylvania, we again exit off Interstate 80 and land in another picture-perfect American landscape: this time, the Victorian town of Franklin. Once prospering from its proximity to the first oil well in America, Franklin now lures creative types from Philadelphia and New York, as well as outdoor enthusiasts with kayaking on the nearby Allegheny River.
Back on the road, we climb, through the Alleghenies, the Catskills, the mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire.
“For purple mountain majesties,
Above the fruited plain!”
During our road trip we have been listening to Alexandre Dumas’ “Count of Monte Cristo.” Once this tale of political intrigue, of contenders for the seat of power, of factions, false blame and conspiracies would have seemed like a fascinating story from an ancient time in France — but not anymore. The day before we arrive in Maine, the indomitable Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies; here at home today the conflict and anger burn even hotter.
Where heroes “Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!”
The sun is going down over the bay, and gulls are crying as we arrived in Maine. Luke uncurls from the ball he is tucked into and pokes his nose out the window to smell the tangy air. It is good to see the ocean. At the cottage, we light a fire and begin to unpack.
The next morning I wake up early and Luke and I walk down the hill towards the lake, me with my coffee, Luke enjoying an extravaganza of sniffing. The air is less frigid this morning but the lake is well past summer’s mild temperatures. I jump in first; Luke barks at me and then executes a Labrador belly flop off the end of the dock. The water is so cold I can barely breathe. Still, it feels like being blessed.
The leaves are tipped with rust, yellow and scarlet, and as we walk back up the path we hear the loon calling. When I exhale, I see smoke.
God shed his grace on thee.
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!”
Katherine Lee Bates, professor, scholar and social activist, was inspired to write “America the Beautiful” during a trip to Pikes Peak in 1893.
Christina Holbrook’s column “Lark Ascending” publishes biweekly in the Summit Daily News. Holbrook writes about life in the mountains, from the beauty of the natural surroundings to the quirkiness of friends and neighbors to what makes a good life. She moved to Breckenridge in 2014 and is the author of “Winelands of Colorado.” Contact her at [email protected].