His name is Nathaniel Swift McChesney, yet he is anything but speedy. He moves with a kind of thoughtful grace through this world, taking his time, looking around, listening carefully. He is on his way to Montana right now, driving his trusty Subaru wagon, making detours off the interstate to see and do interesting things. Yesterday he stopped in Winona, Minnesota, on the banks of the Mississippi, to have a donut from Bloedow's bakery. Then he climbed the hill just outside of town to get a bird's-eye view of the place, before he enjoyed a burger and then settled in for the night in a motel he booked on his own.
Seven years ago, just before he turned thirteen, Nate and I followed a similar path across the United States, heading west to visit South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado. It was a great mother/son trip and Nate was terrific company. He was content to spend long stretches in the car, reading or chatting with me. And he was curious about the world around us. We stopped in Winona then, which was why he made a return visit yesterday.
The donuts are that good.
Nate is on his way back to college, back to his new life as an engineering student in Bozeman, where he has friends I haven't yet met, habits of which I am unfamiliar and dreams for his future that he holds in his warm and generous heart.
I wonder, sometimes, if it was that cross-country adventure we had that inspired in him a desire to live and study in the west. I think sometimes the seeds of early influence and experience do sprout later, into the life we seek for ourselves. I know that happened with me, during all those childhood nose-pressed-to-the-car-window drives from Saratoga to Killington and Stratton and Bromley, southern Vermont's ski hills. Passing barns and empty fields, spending the day on a mountain. All of that probably settled into my bones and eventually drew me here to Vermont, where I have lived now for twenty-three years.
Three weeks ago Nate's brother, Sam, got in his black Audi and zoomed across the country at top speed, making it back to his collegiate nest in Lake Tahoe in just under three days. Sam has always moved at breakneck pace, hurling, spinning and thrusting himself through the air as fast as he can. He had no interest in the landscape or the bakeries on his way west; he simply wanted to be back in the life he left last spring, with his friends doing all the things they love to do together.
Life had changed, of course, and things were different when Sam arrived back on the scene, but that's a lesson we all have to learn the hard way: nothing is ever as we imagine it will be before we get there.
That's why it's a really good idea to enjoy the whole trip, the whole enchilada. To make an adventure out of it, to take a look around and see what grows there, what was built there, who lives there. To stop and climb a hill and breathe in all that new and different air. Being in a hurry can mean missing a whole world of cool stuff.
Being in a hurry can mean missing great donuts. And that is never, ever a good idea. Amen.