Sometimes the reality is so subtle that is only little things like the strength of the mid-day sun or the length of shadows as the sun sets, or that soft drinks are no longer called cokes but are pops. And then there are times when the reality smacks you upside the head and you don’t have to be told that you are in a place or time that’s really strange: you haven’t seen a tree for miles and miles, you’re passing by ice fields that are still there in late summer, or like the little town of Choteau, Montana where we took our daily bicycle ride just the other morning, which had No Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, Burger King, 7-Eleven or any convenience store/gas station of any kind. They had a well-stocked grocery store, but it wasn’t a Safeway, Walmart, or an Albertson or any big chain. They had a restaurant but it wasn’t a Denny’s, an Applebee’s, a Chili’s, or a Dunkin Doughnuts. I mean the little town was complete but it had no franchise-type businesses. Now that was a different reality.
We’ve seen all kinds of things on our little trip to the northwest. Many have been just subtle differences of our own reality back home, many have been radically different, as if we were on a distant planet, but all have had that wondrous infusion of novelty that makes traveling without purpose so rewarding. It is a regular feast for our spirits. It’s this stimulation of atavistic emotions, this buzzing attention that we will take home and sprinkle a little of the time traveler’s perceptions over our old routines and add a touch of shine to our life.
We paralleled the Columbia River most of the day and I kept thinking about an article I read on a guy swimming the length of it to raise awareness of saving it from civilization's pollution. While the bit did peak my interest in reading his story, I’m afraid that it lies outside of my empathy zone. First of all just looking at that big expanse of water is scary, but I also lack motivation in the doing good deeds for civilization. I mean, I compost my food scraps and turn out lights when I leave a room and I don’t throw trash out of the car window, but I don’t march, run, or even bicycle to bring attention to Personality Dysfunction in America (or any other societal weak point). We once had a kid, in a neighborhood in some Midwest city ride up to us as we were pedaling through his town and ask us for what cause were we riding. We told him, “No cause. We just do it because we LIKED to ride." He just shook his head. He couldn’t understand that concept and stated that we were selfish. Since the swimmer was drawing attention to the 'poor state of the river,' would he succeed more if he ended journey with one leg 3 times bigger than the other or with purple running sores over all his body?