Last year around this time, my oldest daughter and I headed out for a road trip to Arkansas, where she was competing in the National Taxidermy Association event. We love our time together, out and about and exploring, and the event itself was fun and edifying and my uniquely talented daughter had a good showing. But the trip turned trying, and painful, when we were in a bad car accident the day before we were to return home, struck by a good person but a careless driver.
Things went from bad to worse after that – our dog died before we could get home; our house flooded a couple of weeks later, due to a roofing job gone bad; and a recent lay off just added to the somber (and damp) atmosphere.
But the trip itself, when all was said and done and accounted for, was still good and memorable and meaningful, as road trips often are. We took the “blue highways” home – America’s slower and more scenic back roads. The Natchez Trace proved especially an especially calming and thought provoking drive, ambling along the eastern spine of the country, through deep woods and rolling hills, through centuries of history.
Thinking about that trip, as the date for this year’s journey approached, I ran a “Blue Highways” contest on Fine Art America and the submissions provided a thoughtful look at back roads scenery and history around the country. The top three winners are featured here in this post, but the rest are all worth enjoying. Because despite the harrowing start to our trip home, personally detouring ourselves off main highways to take a slower drive home made that journey far more memorable than the accident, providing a soothing balm to its scary precursor.
The back roads of America are the ultimate roads home – through the boroughs and little towns and fields and farms and cottages and cottage industries that lie at the heart of who we are, a diverse and multifaceted people, self-reliant, independent spirited folk.
Sometimes we make mistakes – we check our cell phones when we should be watching the road; we get out of our car when we should stay in it and change the course of our own and others’ lives; we say something when we should remain silent, or conversely, we remain silent when we should speak out. Sometimes we’re foolish and short-sighted, impatient and intolerant.
And other times we are magnificent – our back roads speak to some of that higher purpose, the way they trace ageless tracks through our countryside, past the monuments and signs through which we memorialize our past, and the way the artists among us capture the canvass of our classic landscapes, or turn a vista into a turn of poetic phrase. There are always the “helpers” Fred Rogers spoke of, the people you see in every community who alleviate blight, waste, loss, anger and heartache with the stroke of their brush of compassion and kindness – an art in itself.
And so as we set out on the road again tomorrow, northward bound to Baton Rouge, LA this time, we’ll be angling again for those back roads, taking the opportunity and the time, to travel carefully (defensively!) and thoughtfully.
“Life is a highway”, Tom Cochrane sang.
Sometimes it’s a rough ride. But if you take the back roads – the roads less traveled – and don’t let the set backs sideline you, there’s a good chance you’ll not only go places and see things, but learn a bit on the journey.