The Wandering Scientist

What a lovely world it is

Tag Archives: love notes

I love you, highways

Written: May 20, 2013

About: driving around the United States

American highways, I love you.

I do not mean this in a cheap, tired, greeting-card way. Not in the way of lust. This is not a childishly romantic story. I want to sit with you and watch the world age. I want your dust, your gravel, your grass, your revolving skies, your sunsets and sunrises, your deep silky nights and the blazing afternoons.

I do not know the moment I fell in love with you. It may be that I have always loved you, even before I met you. I do know the moment I knew. I looked into your eyes – the eyes of a diner waitress at a truckstop somewhere in the California desert, perhaps outside that bastard Barstow – and could not look away. You served me home fries, greasy eggs, and a side of five hundred miles of hot gravel. You were perfect in that moment. You have always been and always will be.

I know you are not some mindlessly naïve teenager. This is not an adventuresome memory vending machine, press a button – get a pretty postcard. There have been rough times. There was that one time a tire exploded on a big rig on I-75 in Florida. The shrapnel sheared the side mirror clean off the car right in front of me, and showered my windshield with hard burning rubber.

Once, on I-84, in the mountains between Portland and Salt Lake City, I got caught in a vicious, slushing snowstorm. The snow stuck to the road in thick layers, whipped up by the eighteen-wheelers into a foam that coated my windshield, leaving me blind as I was approaching a turn. I could not see, but I had to star turning. If I turned too early, I would be mangled under the truck. If I turned too late, I would plunge into the frozen crevasse. But I was graced with a safe journey, and here I am, saying to you, I love you.

For every dark moment – blinding fog on the bridges East of New Orleans – there is a myriad wonderful ones. I know not to take you for granted, I know you cannot be reduced to any one thing, and I know to take the sparks with the storms.

There is the sun rising over downtown Baltimore, and then setting over the Georgia swamps. The Texas prairie, the cliffs of California, the red soil and the brilliant blue lakes of Shasta mountains. The first time I drove West, I saw the sun setting in Texas, somewhere between El Paso and San Antonio, a particularly empty part of nothingness. That was the first time in my life that I had even approached the desert. The view was so stunning, I simply had to, had to stop. I got out, leaned on my car, and watched you slip into darkness. You were flawless.

I love you, highways.

Rocketing along a busy interstate in California, pulling over on the shoulder of a deserted Arizona highway, I feel unconstrained, I feel my own. With the point of origin many miles behind and the destination whole tanks of gas ahead, I feel detached from the minutiae, solidly in the immediate right now. In your vastness I have found the realization that I am both infinitesimally insignificant and brilliantly my own. Out on the road, the sense of self comes into the sharpest relief.

The air is rushing by, I’m chasing clouds, and my lips settle into the slightest upcurl. Lane markings skipping by like blips on an old record. Truck stop coffee and gas station hotdogs, a sense of carefree lightness. Thoughts take on the long shapes. There is a sublime rhythm to this experience, a heartbeat of the tires bumping on the pavement, the long continuous breath of the wind humming on the edges of the car. This is the place. This is the place I want to be, and I always miss.

I love you, highways, and I will never stop.


Dear x

Written: April 26, 2011

About: a book

dear x
i love you

The words appeared on a small slip of weathered paper, neatly torn from a larger sheet, and tucked away between the pages of a book I am reading. They weren’t addressed to me. An old love note in an old book. A tender moment lost in a time long past.

The discovery made me stop and pace around the room for a while. Such simple words. So filled with honesty and truthful desire. Gentle care had gone into so carefully separating the little piece of paper, deliberately inking the words, and inserting the note between the pages of a book shared.

I readily admit my love for words, and this loves frequently leads me to use too many of them. I often put great effort into describing things and emotions effusively and at length, with detours and side stories, always hunting for the perfect metaphor, that unique angle, that awe-inspiring perspective that will strike the reader with its brilliance. Perhaps, too often, too much effort. I am struck by the beauty and the elegance of expression that is so brief yet so potent. That which is true needs no embellishment.

Our paths seem to be littered with mementos of great passions. Not always the positive ones. This admission comes on the heels of another recent find of mine, a sorrowful lover’s letter. Anger rarely leaves anything quite so coherent; its memories come in shards and scars, but no less evocative. Or perhaps a variation on the classic, something along the lines of “D + S = forever 1987,” scrawled into a sidewalk.

It doesn’t take much to reconnect with those emotions, even if they are not yours. If our own lives have such artifacts throughout, imagine the thick layers of memories wrapped around our cities, where generations of millions of people have loved and suffered and remembered. And then imagine all the moments that didn’t leave a trace.