“As long as you seek for something, you will get the shadow of reality and not reality itself.”
– D. T. Suzuki
THERE’S A STEADY RUMBLE COMING from under the bus. It sways gently to its starboard, carving through air as it weaves between the cars, balling straight ahead on I-94 as it reaches across the plains. 77 mph, roaring past farmhouses, abandoned trucks, off-ramps to dirt gravel roads to unknown places, hidden locations. I’m on my way back to my hometown of Bismarck to see it in a new way, in a strange way, like something I’ve never known.
A harsh contrast lives along here: between the fields, light black and empty, and the short strip of vividly green grass tracing the highway. The line is marked by tiny fence posts and nearly invisible wire stretched all the way out to the horizon that divides this land into small tracts, a patchwork punctuated by little potholes and lakes. You are riding just low enough to the ground to see it — hovering six feet above the grey pavement — but running fast enough not to pick out the particulars. The only trains that run through this state do so in the middle of the night, when you can’t see much of anything out there. The road is the only way to catch things like this, sights so stark that they appear as an abstraction.
hot wheels rolling by
on the sun-dried pavement —
green grass is waving
This is all familiar territory for me. The strange thing at the moment are the people next to me: bright blue-jeaned man reading a book with 2nd propeller chapter named “Solo”; thick sweatered and spectacled woman with overly large and frumpled Christmas pillow; the Army t-shirt giant who got on the bus late and mumbled all the way with his great white head of fuzz; the mid-length blonde white hoodie who gave him the seat next to her and scrunched up her nose, burying it in a fragrant Cosmopolitan magazine. And all of them, silent, next to each other. What slice of humanity is this? Whose America is it? And here I am, scribbling eccentric notes of no interest to anyone but myself, and not even realizing my belt is unbuckled, fly down. I guess I’ll defend myself by saying, I’m exposing myself to the world, one person, one place, one moment at a time.
cool heads on strangers
silenced by A/C airflow —
five roadside blossoms
We drop a couple of strangers off at a gas station in Valley City and continue to head West. The bus driver seems to want to make time, though no one made a fuss when we left 15 minutes late and I’m dropping in and out of sleep. Conscious or unconscious, I’m just trying to enjoy the ride. Sometimes it seems like the hardest part of traveling is dealing with all the dead and dying time, waiting to get somewhere you want to go. This is all different for me this time; even this trip has become a partial adventure: a strange reversal from the time-anxiety of making the plane, catching the train, getting enough rest and all that, before I would go back to the super-static life of eat, work, eat, sleep. New York interrupts all those things, sometimes blurs them together, makes TIME a hyper-conscious state. This trip will be quite different on that, with lots of time to kill, and little to get distracted with. Our time will burn up as the Earth turns its northern head toward and away from the Sun.
It’s bound to be a paradox of both time and space: progressing slowly across the map each day, almost going nowhere at all, perhaps still seeing our previous night’s campsite off our hindsights. Yet making distance all the time, all day long, and for days and days on end. And aren’t we all always moving anyhow? The continents shifting, the Sun circling over our heads, the Earth spinning in space and circling the Sun, within a spiraling galaxy, and in the universe infinitely expanding…wait! Isn’t traveling just a concept, a metaphor for a metamorphosis of thought? Even history projects us backwards and forwards in time…all the while, the moment feels like an illusion, an insignificant blip on the radar screen of forever…
riding the spring wind
has the feeling of movement —
sleeping the whole time
We’re in Jamestown already. I’m tempted to say “we’re on the way home” but I’ve really lost that sense of myself. Having moved all my personal possessions out of my parents’ house, what I didn’t save I gave away, and most of what’s left there now is baby pictures, man, just baby pictures…and lots books I won’t use. At one point, I believe I made a catalog of it all, but that’s gone missing somewhere sometime ago. And I can’t say New York is my home — a city filled with travelers and constantly in flux — and a mighty strange feeling upon leaving that this trip might change me in a way that I can’t ever really return. I’ve only been gone a day now and I can already see that there’s far more to this world than even New York can offer, despite its claims to possess everything and everyone of importance.
New York springs with life
Dakota, a little less —
no feeling of home
It might be true in one way, but what they absolutely cannot claim to have is nothing. I mean Nothing. The streets the people the sounds the stuff the lights the thoughts the sights; it’s been filled, to the brim, with everything; no space left; no room for nothing.
That is what I’m seeking on this journey coming back through the heartland. You’ll ask, can you ever find ‘nothing’? Is it really ‘there’ or anywhere to be found? I once read that, “The right art is purposeless, aimless! The more obstinately you try to learn how to shoot the arrow for the sake of hitting the goal, the less you will succeed in the one and the further the other will recede.” (Suzuki) What might it be like to aim at Nothing? Perhaps it sounds a little confusing, like I wouldn’t even know what it meant to succeed. Or just a little boring, like who cares? And perhaps, that means, well, I’m screwed from the outset. So prepare yourself for failure. Here we go. I’m going to walk in the wilderness, where I’m going to find nothing.
Around mile 230 (near Medina, ND), 2011.25.5, 16:30