We drove cross-country to the whispers of Omicron. Two short weeks ago, when we set out, it was still more threat than reality. Our destination was Montana where we would spend Christmas with our newborn granddaughter. We drove a rented SUV packed full of our grandson, Jack’s, baby accoutrements plus a sizable chunk of Santa’s sleigh.
Six days. Thirty-two hours of driving.
I pegged the route to accommodate a stop in Cedar Rapids, Iowa—the most Slovak (and Czech) city in the United States. We bought pastries from a woman who immigrated from Czechoslovakia in the Czech Village, meandered through the Czech and Slovak Museum, and ate some reasonably authentic goulash for lunch at the Little Bohemian.
We browsed through a mountain of kitsch and recounted well-worn stories of our 18-month stint living in Bratislava. It’s surreal to realize that a slapdash decision to move there ten years ago inspired some of our most cherished memories—and that we can still be so smitten with this tiny country.
Our leisurely pace allowed us time to wander frosty, yet delightful, Le Claire, Iowa on the banks of the Mississippi River and the cow-poke town of Sheridan, Wyoming at the western edge of the plains. Around Iowa, “Happy Holidays” morphed into “Merry Christmas” as cornfields stretched for a 1000 miles.
As we crossed South Dakota on side roads, Pat noticed a historical marker obscured down a dirt path. We bumped off course and found a monument to O. E. Rölvaag, the author of Giants in the Earth—one of the books I’d read last year in my quest to better understand Dakota Territory homesteaders.
My great great grandmother, Charity Bird Holloway, died in childbirth as a homesteader on the Dakota plains. I was thrilled to stumble upon this obscure marker down a South Dakota cow-path.
I wondered how Rölvaag would feel to learn that his desolate homestead is now accessible by an 80 mph interstate careening nearby. I wondered how he would have defined the word progress.
And we moved on.
In one day, we searched in vain through dense fog for the faces on Mount Rushmore as we chatted with a young man who had immigrated from Yemen. It was a serendipitous exchange that I wouldn’t trade for the brightest blue sky. We then circumnavigated Devil’s Tower as the fog lifted.
The next day, we cut a beeline through the Badlands.
We stopped to our fancy, smeared rye crackers with almond butter for lunch and joined in with Gordon Lightfoot singing Carefree Highway. I listened—for the hundredth time—as Pat professed his love of road trips. He listened—for the hundredth time—as I professed my love of Paris. We agreed that life is big enough for both.
I’m writing this post from a bed in Montana as our last full day dawns. The thermometer reads zero as the winds of Paradise Valley whip icy drops of snow against our window. I hear a snow blower buzzing in the distance. Cuddled in my cozy bed, I ponder my far different reality than the miserable sod-house existence described by Rölvaag.
Our trip home is abbreviated as Omicron roars around a world that is once again bowed. We will move slowly, but we won’t linger. We’ll wear our masks, take walks, and have faith in our boosters. As I told my friend Mary this morning, “I don’t aspire to get Covid, but I’ve done all that I can. I’m no longer willing to live in fear.”
When I texted that message to her I had no intention of writing a blog today much less of using that line. Yet here we are.
Bowed but not cowering. Progress.
Categories: The United States