Friday was a transition day. It was the third day of my cross country expedition. I slipped into another time zone and I took a different course in my travel and my thinking. A light went on, but it was rather dim, on a dimmer switch I’m thinking, that will brighten as I push farther across this land. I left Lexington, KY and drove to Abe Lincoln’s birthplace and early homestead in Hodgenville. Google mapped me out a course that would take me just over an hour to drive between the two. My way took three. There were more than a few wrong turns and one large retrace but I really wasn’t concerned. I found what I was looking for, a quaint museum, in a quaint little town, just off of the town’s modern roundabout, the one with two Lincoln statues. The museum contained cheesy dioramas with hideous hair pieces in a converted general store, but it was filled with information and local pride. Just down the road sits a small National Park that houses an old log cabin that Abraham Lincoln was supposed to have been born in, although not the authentic one, tucked inside a large neoclassical marble and granite Memorial Building with a huge, wide staircase leading up to it, even though the entrance is in the back. Incongruous is a pretty good word.
The two tours didn’t take as long as I had anticipated, so I headed south toward my next stop at Mammoth Caves National Park. Along the way I drove into the Central Time Zone. I gained an hour and a little insight. I had nowhere to be, no one to meet, no timetable, no real plan. I don’t like not having a plan. I was free but I kept feeling smothered.
The extra hour actually loosened me up a little. Just a little though. I sat in the crowded lobby of the Park’s welcome center and slowly, methodically figured out what I wanted to do next. I had options. It was still mid-afternoon and like I said, I had nowhere to be. I reserved a spot on a 3 o’clock cave tour that would explain the human history of Mammoth Cave along with its uses (there are a lot of tours to choose from) and I figured I’d stay right there in the Park overnight. The crowds would leave and I could get a better feel for the Park in its quieter time, have a nice dinner in the restaurant at the hotel, get up early for a hike, and then another two-hour tour underground to learn more about the geology and discovery of the Caves. Then I would be off and on my way, to the next unknown destination.
That fourth day, I ambled again, with even less direction than the day before. A lovely, deserted Shaker museum was near the southern Kentucky border. Touring it alone and in such quiet brought some much welcome serenity after the crowded tours underground. Leaving the museum, the back roads beckoned and I drove through some beautiful farmland before entering Tennessee. The man at the Shaker Museum mentioned there was a good Japanese restaurant at light 15 in Bowling Green. I didn’t know what he meant. I had just driven through Bowling Green and didn’t want to backtrack, so I headed south and west. A half hour later I found myself in the little town of Franklin eating at a local diner, sitting by the window looking out at intersection #4. In parts of Kentucky they number their stop-lighted intersections. This makes sense to me.
Sunday, day five, was a beautiful day and I channeled my friend Mark. I went to Cheekwood Botanical Garden in the morning then across Nashville to the Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s home, for the afternoon. For many years Mark and I have taken touristy day trips between Albany and New York City. Our favorites are the Berkshire Botanical Gardens in Stockbridge, Massachusetts and the New York Botanical Gardens and the Cloisters in New York. He was with me in spirit on this fifth day. We would have quizzed each other on the plants and written down the names of the ones we didn’t recognize. We would have wandered around wordlessly and separately at times, pointing to this and that, noticing the details of the pergolas and the pavements. We would have stopped at the same vantage points and commented on the way the designer used the plants or the rocks to focus or frame. We would have toured the mansion at Cheekwood and gaped at the brilliant beauty of the Japanese Bamboo Art. And at our 7th President’s home we would have gone in separate directions around the formal gardens adjacent the house and bumped into each other at intersecting paths asking if the other had seen or smelled or felt what we ourselves had just experienced.
As I move further into this trip, I’m training myself to take it easy, remembering I have no one to meet, no expectations. I have time. I take all my friends with me as I move farther away from the known and I will bring each of them forward, calling upon each for comfort and support and memories. Today it was Mark’s turn.