We bounce up the gravel road, some miles from where it leaves the pavement behind. Before the ride is out something will puncture the right front tire on this American-made Ford F150. We will notice it later in the evening, as it settles slowly to earth after our return home. For now though the vehicle is big and the ride as comfortable as can be.

“Better than in the old truck,” says our host. It is a statement I cannot vouch for, but tolerable, given the track.

The world, this far from human habitat, is stunning and full of life. On the ride in we see little save the landscape, the barren fields already cut, the dusty road long without rain. It is Montana, the shrubbery low and the trees hidden in valleys. Our destination is a ranch house tucked, in the style of Rivendell, into an invisible cavity in the rolling hills. Surrounded by trees and filled with family and cats it is a secret sanctuary amid the brown of felled hay and wheat.

On the way home in the dark the same path has come alive. After the sun set the cats disappeared into the night, only to be roused by our headlights as we bounce out the driveway. Young and gray the kittens skitter across in front of our paths, and we all warn the driver, instinctively. They are too precious to risk, and he is well aware.

In the dark the animals of the wilderness grow bold, traveling with comfort along the nice track left by humans through this wilderness. We see one skunk, thankfully quiet, and a pair of porcupines, separate and strange in the darkness. They are creatures whose shapes surprise me, and it falls to others to guess correctly what the shadow are before the headlights find them. A group of deer bound across the road in front of us, young and skittish they proceed away with uncertain bounds. Last there is an unidentified creature, a dark shape of dog or wolf or coyote but with long tail, with strange motion. We stop and turn the car towards it, but the motion is lost in the weeds and we find nothing, nosing the Ford up into the dirt. Again I am impressed by the vehicle, by the ability to nose up and into the rocks. This detour may cost us a tire, but it is a demonstration of the value of size, of wheelbase and clearance. The Fit, much loved and well-traveled, would not fare well on these roads.

And so it is we return to Billings, to the small house that is our house for a few days of weddings, introductions, and celebrations. Good times and back yards, sunshine, stereos, pickups meant for four, and a landscape suitable.

Turning over

On my birthday the skies of San Francisco are clear. Mr. Squish and I open all our windows to this gift, the heavy fog of summer seemingly evaporated overnight.

All day not a single cloud dots the tiny patch of sky visible from our window. Mr. Squish sniffs and purrs without much disturbance. As is his wont he attacks the Lego he is now large enough to reach, and chases my pant legs as I walk from room to room. The cat and I are spending a quiet day together, celebrating my personal year in our new fashion.

From New York an old friend writes with thoughts that mirror my own. He has  just returned from six weeks abroad.

“Not that I spend much time in my apartment anyway…” he begins.

We live in two of the world’s most expensive cities and yet inhabit our own apartments so rarely that a day at home has become a vacation.

The air here is clean, and the temperature far cooler than the record-breaking triple digits in Portland last weekend. Like age, the moderate temperatures of the Bay Area are probably weakening my body. After a future move to hotter climes I will most likely regret these years spent in a study of the gradients between 52 and 68 F.

My friend’s letter, though mailed from the US, was written in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Korea. Edited on a Japanese train and a Thai bus, it brings the feel of motion, if not the specifics. Like most correspondence it is concerned with relationships, with the play between people and the motion of time. He writes of the ease of travel, the challenges of learning a new place, and the enjoyment of labor. So to do these letters mention our aging, the growth of knowledge and the familiarity with the road.

Are we wiser, he asks, a decade later, when we are still moving, still looking?

How could we not be, I answer, reading in the breeze of San Francisco, in the calm of a day without destination.

This city is as Tokyo was, a new place to discover.  As Shanghai, Hong Kong, Houston, New York are and were. We are travelers not only when abroad, not only when unaware of local custom. After so long on the road, on the lookout for the new and different, I hope we will never awake in a city without wonder.

We grow older, I think, trying to answer his deeper question, not because the world is less interesting, nor because we are less spry, but because the things we see on occasion recall things we have already seen. We receive letters from friends we have heard from often, written from cities we can successfully imagine. Their words remind us of shared dinners, of train rides together through humid countrysides, of apartments we both once worked to afford.

Yet we still adventure. We do so without the sense of need that pushed us out of doors of a decade ago. Instead we adventure because it has become who we are. After a decade of correspondence, after cohabiting in upstate New York, in Japan, China, and Texas, the two of us are closer to who we wanted to be. Watchers and letter-writers, wanderers with jobs that span countries. My oft-mentioned goal of comfort in any city, any location, is no myth. Instead at the dawn of thirty three it is a comfort, a truth built on the friends gained at each stop along the way.