We began our trip West by going South, in an annual floating camp with core friends. This year we were in the mountains around Asheville, North Carolina. I was standing in Lake Lure chatting agreeably with an older area woman on a pink raft about the area's beauty when she told me "you know they filmed Dirty Dancing right here." I nearly upended her in my haste to run through the shallows to share this delectable news (and practice The Lift) with my friends. We learned the next day in adjacent Chimney Rock State Park—a newish park whose titular rock looks exactly like a circumcised penis, to the delight of all local vendors—that Last of the Mohicans was filmed there, too. I stood in the spray at the foot of Hickory Nut Falls, 404 feet below where Chingachgook and Magua had their final clinch, and tried to feel some spark of Americanist communion with this Appalachian stand-in for the Catskills. Later it recurred to me that the Kaaterskill Mountains were part of the same ridge system as the Smoky Mountains or Appalachians where we vacationed, and the Alleghenies where we live in central Pennsylvania. It has been my own northeast corridor for the last thirty-plus years of car trips; on Wednesday this week, we shifted the axis.
I have been telling my daughter about the moment when the land falls away and the horizon becomes all sky; this first happened in Oklahoma, on 40W. East coast child, she didn't she quite understand what this meant, I don't think, until we were rolling toward Amarillo. Until then she had passed the long hours in the car reading Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, or drawing as we listened to an audiobook of Jane Eyre. She wasn't looking up, is what I am saying—Tennessee and Arkansas have their charms but could not hold her eye. This changed in the two hours outside of Amarillo, when we were ringed by a series of superb Texas storms. At one point she counted eight separate columns of blackness descending from the low, sullen overcloud, punctuating the orange horizon level in panoramic fullness. In the columns lightning flashed. We drove through actual rain for only a minute or two. The black columns of rain tilted and reshaped themselves; they swept around the great bowl of the sky. A particularly vivid lightning bolt struck before us on the Texas highway (the old Route 66), just as the chestnut tree was riven by lightning in Jane Eyre by Jane's acceptance of Mr. Rochester's proposal. We turned off the audiobook for a moment to appreciate this doubly pathetic fallacy.
We drove past signs advertising an RV Park that featured "Cable TV and Storm Shelter." Amarillo smelled of dirty diapers, I thought, until the sight of spurs on everyone at the gas station made me realize I was smelling the stockyards. We had dinner of cheerios from the Toot'n Totum. Tomorrow: New Mexico.