The Long Trail West

Perhaps one of my first introductions to the loneliness of stuff left behind was from the computer game Oregon Trail. In the long ago days of fifth and sixth grade, I would walk into the only air conditioned room I ever had reason to visit, rub my arms against the goosebumps and try not to lean backwards in the plastic lawn chairs, waiting for the computers to turn on and the game to start.

In the computer lab. Notice my fashionable mismatched socks and my "white" Keds.

Oregon Trail was a window for learning. About computers, yes, but also about diseases I didn't know how to pronounce, geography that I somehow assumed mostly to be fictional, and the oddity of leaving home for an unknown future. (Never mind the irony that I was living the same story, the child of international missionaries.)

But back to Oregon Trail. My memory is too vague to remember whether the crude pixelated images showed items abandoned on the side of the road, but in the years since, I have imagined that this is where I first saw such peculiarities as a bed frame with nothing to keep it company but twin wheel ruts heading west.

You've brought it all this way. Why abandon it now? Why allow the effort of carrying it so far be for nothing?

I've thought of this often since the move two summers ago, when 473 square feet of home could not all travel the 2,000 miles to our yet-unseen home in Wisconsin. We were not foolish enough to suppose we could take it all with us, but even in the stuttered start we had from "little house" to "big house" and then to both sets of parents, at each leave-taking it seemed we were leaving more than we were taking.
Our well-packed ReloCube

And in the long journey made longer by choosing train travel and a detour through British Columbia, more things were left behind, perhaps with less intention, but can you really say for certain that the bed frames and treasured family hope chests littering the Great Plains were left behind intentionally?

But even so, that first day when I walked into our smaller-than-expected dorm-style apartment, expectations met reality and I seriously wondered if even the contents of our well-packed ReloCube could fit.

The answer, in case you are wondering, was no. At least not in the way we hoped. To reach any one of my books requires crawling and squeezing that would do a seasoned spelunker proud (headlamp or flashlight-in-mouth included).

I am not so rich that I can be a minimalist, but didn't I get rid of so much before our move?

Occasionally I discover some peculiar tag-along and I think, "How on earth did you make it all this way when I had to leave that other thing behind?" And it doesn't help when I trip over those things that I so carefully brought along, certain they would be needed, only to find that our new house had no use for it.

I've discovered that it is nearly impossible to pack for what you know little about. Thus the guide books treasured by American settlers of the West. Thus the Google searches late into the night before a vacation or a cross-country move. (The peculiar lack of information on life in Wisconsin during winter is what led me to my own small contribution on that topic last year.)

That is part of the adventure, though, accepting the risk that life will not be what you expect of it... the knowledge that you may not get to choose what you leave behind... the purposeful setting of one foot before the other, even when you feel as if you've left a little part of yourself back there, next to the twin wheel ruts heading west.

The irony does not pass by unnoticed that the place where long ago I played Oregon Trail, that school of my childhood, was also left behind to crumble in disrepair.

The administration building (with bathrooms on the left) of the school I called mine. Even before I made it to kindergarten, I knew this building inside and out, as many times I waited for my teacher-parents to wrap things up. I would draw on the corner of the chalkboard (where that gray rectangle is) or try to pick the impatiens growing all along the front sidewalk, wondering why such a pretty flower could smell so awful. (Photo Credit: Kurt Metzger)

Yet even in the backward glances, the wistful longing for what I once called mine, the hope of better draws me onward and another adventure draws near. At some as-yet-unknown date in the next 44 days, we will again pack our boxes of treasured things and sentimental stuff and set out to a new horizon.

In amongst these moves I've made across continents and country, I am mindful of a more epic journey and a greater adventure that is mine. It, too, requires me to set one foot before the other, to leave behind the things that only make it harder for me to reach that distant horizon. I may look back with a certain nostalgia for what I reluctantly gave up, but oh, Gentle Readers. I've got the guidebook for how to get to that Land, and it's going to be worth every goodbye.


Devin Carroll said…
What a great commentary. Keep them coming.