My daughter recently turned 16, and I took her on a road trip for her birthday. We flew to Minneapolis on a Wednesday night and spent the next four days touring the Midwest.
The day after arriving in Minnesota, we drove 120 miles along the Mississippi River to Winona, which is where I went to grade school through high school. Coming from Arizona, it was a shock to both of our systems. Every inch of ground is green in Minnesota.
It was nothing like Arizona, where there may be a single plant struggling to survive in the space of your kitchen. Along the Mississippi River, there’s a three-way competition between trees, silkworms and grape vines. The silkworms eat the trees. Grape vines try to take over trees as they reach the son. And the trees try their best to fend both off.
On Friday, we drove 200 miles to Iowa City, where I went to law school. We took the scenic route (again) along the Mississippi. Along the way, we saw bald eagles, hawks, turkey vultures, deer, squirrels, raccoons, and so on. Arizona is beautiful in its sparseness. Northern Iowa is beautiful because of its natural lushness.
The next day, we drove to the Amana Colonies. We ate at the Ox Yoke Inn, which has been serving amazing locally German grown food since the 1940s. I don’t know why there aren’t more obese people there. We ate enough for lunch that we both skipped dinner that day.
Then began the leg of our journey that I think we were meant to experience. Traveling through northern Iowa, we entered corn country. I’m talking about miles and miles of corn (and some soybeans and alfalfa). That part of our journey only lasted four hours. But it was like a condensed version of traveling by ocean. Something happens to the soul when your senses are deprived of variety. For me, I started to just be with myself. That’s not always a welcome feeling. There was nothing to fill the time. It made me think of my grandparents who came from Germany on ships. The ocean waves washed away their past lives and gave them fresh starts. Sure, I spent some time listening to a book on tape, and we spent some time sampling new music. But there always comes the time when one just gives in. With the radio off and being tired of conversation, there is aloneness and silence.
I have no idea what it was like for my grandparents to be on a ship for weeks coming from Germany. For me with my short trip through the sea of corn, I felt newly energized to make my life count for something once I got back to my “life” and “civilization.”
In the end, the trip was exactly what I personally needed. And helped heal our relationship as well. Over the last five years, I had unwittingly become a workaholic. I have too many memories of sitting at my desk, and not enough memories of being with my two kids. I was becoming my stepdad who died of a heart attack at his office.
I can’t make up for lost time. But I only hope that taking a road trip with my daughter will give her some good memories of her dad. And I hope it will give me a fresh start so I can make each day count more going forward.