Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
– Song of the Open Road, I, Walt Whitman
Beads of sweat slid down my back, soaking my shirt and the waistband of my jean skirt. The air conditioning in the Budget rental truck I was driving blew lukewarm air into my face.
Hot. Fresh air. I need fresh air.
The heat was doing things to my mental state, reducing my thoughts to monosyllabic sentences. I waited until I could no longer stand the stale air before turning off the AC and opting for hot wind instead. Opening the windows, I gulped in the raw, humid blast. Hot or not, any fresh air circulating was better than none.
If only I had had the sense a few days ago to turn this beast around before leaving the Budget rental location in Morgantown, West Virginia, march into the tiny office, and demand a truck with working air conditioning. Instead, I had decided that I was running out of time. I still had to load my life’s belongings into the truck and double check my long “to do” list. I would “cowgirl up.” After all, how hard could it be driving across the country to Oklahoma in the middle of summer?
I shook my head at my ignorance. Harder than it should be or could be.
I suppose my adventurous spirit stemmed from my childhood experiences. Growing up in a large family provided plenty of opportunities to learn how to adapt. I remember many hours of being crammed into our station wagon or van, and I hadn’t minded that. Our family lived a nomadic lifestyle, where limited space required flexibility, patience, and endurance. I longed to believe that some of those characteristics still lingered inside me.
My imagination encouraged me to turn my situation into an adventure, just like the old days when I would gaze out the bus window for hours on end. All I needed to do was employ my romantic, dreamy nature and pretend that I was a pioneer woman . . .
She guided the reins as the wagon bounced over the wide, flat plains, the tall grass waving, the sun beating down. Her faded gingham bonnet shielded her from the sun’s hottest rays, while a canteen of tepid water lodged near her feet. She was on her way to a new life in a new land. While her children were with her in the wagon, her husband had raced ahead at the firing of the gun that signaled the opening of the Unassigned Lands. Their family would be some of the first to claim a plot of ground on which to build a home and settle in the Oklahoma Territory during the Land Run of 1889. (I couldn’t imagine the husband and children part . . . maybe I should just pretend she was a single schoolteacher.)
The humidity in the truck was slowing rising. I glanced again at the landscape stretching before me in an unending line.
When Walt Whitman wrote the words, “the long brown path,” he must have been referring to Oklahoma.
Although I wasn’t taking to the open roads “afoot”, I didn’t find it difficult pretending to be a pioneer woman. For someone used to the cool, clear West Virginia mountain air, the Oklahoma landscape offered sharp contrasts. Trees perched low on minuscule ridges. Rivers crawled between fields of grass. Signs bearing Native American tribes appeared at intervals along the highway. “Entering Cherokee Nation,” read one. “Entering Creek Nation,” proclaimed another. The signs only solidified that I was far, far from home. Maybe I should imagine myself as a Cherokee woman instead, entering Oklahoma in the spring of 1839 after a difficult journey that left thousands dead.
But the reality was clear: I had to put aside imagination.
I wasn’t living in 1839 or 1889. I was living right here—June 27, 2015.
I wasn’t riding in a wagon loaded down with supplies or on a horse with my canteen at my side. I was riding alone in a Budget truck with most of my life’s belongings piled in the back. This was the journey I was embarking upon—my journey of faith. And I didn’t know exactly where the trail would end.
Looking back to that June day, I see that God had carved out a path before I even knew one existed. That doesn’t mean all of my questions have been answered, but it does bring my path into perspective. God knew where I was headed, and today I can see how He walked before me to clear the way—step by step.
For today, I remind myself to rest in the assurance of His never-failing love and grace. I don’t know about you, but it seems like I have to do this often. Minute by minute, sometimes. And when I do, I realize anew His presence near me.