Well, it finally happened. You can add me to the ranks of fathers who have, in desperate need of getting their baby to nap, gone for a drive with said baby in the back seat. What sort of magic or devilry transpires within the confines of a car rolling down the highway is beyond my comprehension, all I know is that it works.
In actuality, our little car nap adventures have been part of getting Jacob used to sleeping during the day for naps. So Ariel and I have been taking turns in the late afternoon driving around. Being that this is Jacob’s first “road trip” experience and in the spirit of our history of always looking to maximize our travel (even local travel), I’ve opted to take the opportunity to try and find the adventure in our own town and surrounding area.
Rather than just rushing over to the concrete, asphalt, eight-lane-hellscape that is the New Jersey Turnpike, 287, Route 18 or any of the other miserable highways that converge around our house, I’ve tried to make the most of the aimless drives by finding local two-lane country-style roads. Yes, even in dead-center New Jersey, you can find isolated drives that make you feel like you’re in some rural farm country or in the middle of the woods.
Within about 5-10 minutes of where we live, you can get lost for hours on country roads that take you through tree groves (I wouldn’t really call them “forests”), corn fields that take me back to Iowa, past kitschy Americana diners that wouldn’t look out of place on Route 66. Spread out a bit and you can drive through the Delaware Water Gap (a truly striking geologic formation), down to the highest point on the Eastern seaboard, or out onto deserted highways that look more like Kansas than a New York suburb.
Of course, with most of these drives being under 90 minutes in total, that rules out some of the more exciting landscapes we have around us… and as Jacob’s sleep has moderated we have been going for less of these drives… but the experience got me thinking about how important it is to maximize the time we are given – even when doing something as potentially mundane as trying to get an uncooperative baby to JUST-GO-TO-SLEEP-FOR-THE-LOVE-OF-GOD.
It’s also important, especially if you’re adjusting to having a virtual leash that ties you down to a specific area, to know that there are sure to be hidden gems located within that area. Living in a suburb right smack dad in the middle of one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world (seriously just take a look at a light pollution map of the Boston to Washington, DC corridor), is about as far you can get from New Zealand, both physically and mentally. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find places that can mentally transport you to a different world…
…at least until your brain starts to register the sounds of cars zooming by.
Take the aforementioned New Jersey Turnpike. Not exactly what one would consider a nature preserve. But there are hidden gems even within a few hundred feet of the concrete and diesel-fume misery that is I-95.
Just the other day, in the middle of a Target parking lot, within 50 yards of the Turnpike, I stumbled across a little hidden oasis surrounded by trees. In reality, it was just a pretty nasty little pond, but it was filled with ducks, geese and even rarely seen cranes and herons.
There, in the literal shadow of one of the busiest highways in the world, surrounded by people loading up their cars with clothes and electronics, hidden by thicket of bushes and trees just a few feet deep, these majestic creatures splashed and flew around as they have for millions of years, undisturbed by the noise of cars and people all around them. Blissfully unaware that they were in the middle of a concrete wasteland – as far as these animals were concerned they were in their natural habitat.
Of course, for me, the experience is completely shattered by the sounds of cars whizzing by and a Petco employee dumping her trash into the dumpster behind her store. But there’s a lesson there I think.
As we grow older, it’s easy to feel like one of the oak trees that grow behind our house. We set down roots. We may sway in the wind but we never really move very far. We may be able to look out in the distance and yearn for adventure but ultimately we’re bound by our roots. And while our surroundings may be comforting, the fact that we are stuck there means we’re as trapped as the trees.
We aren’t trees.
We aren’t bound by our roots.
And while it is certainly far more difficult than it used to be to just pick up and go, making the most of our time means we can and must put in the effort to get out there. Even if it’s much less often than it used to be, ignoring the call to see new things is a good way to grow resentful and miserable.
So even if you can’t get too far outside your comfort zone too often, explore the area within your own little Shire. Be open to the possibility that there may be some really interesting things in your own proverbial backyard. Plan a trip, even if it will take literally years of logistical coordination and money saving. Give yourself something to look forward to.
And in the meantime, keep searching for the adventure in the everyday. It’s out there, I promise you.