Last night we slept near Big Timber. I love the cathedral of woods, sunlight scattering through trees on a summer afternoon like smoking lasers.
The maternal side of my family came from a misnamed place in the panhandle of Oklahoma, Boise City (Boise is tree in French) which was a lie propagated by real estate promoters. Buffalo grass thrived in the arid flatlands of the panhandle, but trees found little purchase in the windblown dirt.
My paternal side came from Timber Hill, Oklahoma. They were coal miners and farmers and storekeepers, living simple lives in the hills and hollers. I feel at home in the trees, alive and free yet small and inconsequential all at once. Which is how I feel about this meandering drive west.
This land is remarkable and vast. RV traveling magnifies our freedom and our constraints. We are free to roam and yet constrained. Monitoring our power usage, our waste, our gas, our water. What must Lewis and Clark thought about these plains and mountains and streams purchased from the French for $18 per square mile for the “preemptive” right to obtain Indian lands by treaty or by conquest, to the exclusion of other colonial powers?
We are traveling with our good friends Bob and Sheila. Friendship isn’t easy when you share a bed and bath on wheels. It is constrained and yet informed by stewardship, thrift, temperance, generosity, kindness, and love.
Friendship isn’t always what we think it to be. Nor is freedom. It is often obstructed and limited and difficult. Wendell Berry will finish the thought:
“In our limitless selfishness, we have tried to define “freedom,” as an escape from all restraint. But, as my friend Bert Hornback has explained in his book The Wisdom in Words, “free” is etymologically related to “friend.” These words come from the same Indo-European root, which carries the sense of “dear” or “beloved.” We set our friends free by our love for them, with the implied restraints of faithfulness or loyalty. And this suggests that our “identity” is located not in the impulse of selfhood but in deliberately maintained connections.”
“There are, it seems, two muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say “It is yet more difficult than you thought.” This is the muse of form. It may be then that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction, to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.” Wendell Berry