Yesterday I drove 385 miles (616 kilometers) out-and-back on a business trip to Virginia Beach. Since my XM radio provided my sole source of companionship I had lots of time to think.
As I traveled down I-95, I recalled the first time I drove that stretch of road to Camp Happyland, nearly five years ago. At that time, overwhelmed by the density of the forests on both sides of the road, I thought, “What are all these trees doing here?” Since I grew up in Pennsylvania (which means “Penn’s Woods” – you can figure out why) I was really amused by this reaction. Having lived in Iowa for five years, and Manitoba for seven years, before coming back east, I had grown accustomed to open prairie spaces sprinkled here and there with a few trees. I had forgotten what it was like to live and travel in heavily wooded areas. That was a strange moment of epiphany for me.
Having recalled that moment, my thoughts shifted to how yesterday’s journey differed from similar trips in the northern forests of Canada. Virginia is populated primarily with deciduous trees. This is a marked contrast to the forests of northern Ontario, and eastern and northern Manitoba, which are heavily populated with evergreens. Driving through stands of oak and maple trees is a lot different than driving through stands of pines and firs.
As I came to the crest of a hill, still surrounded by trees, I strained to see some sort of vista, but could see no further than I had at the bottom of the hill. Even at the top of the hill I couldn’t see past all the trees. I compared that to taking in views from the hilltops of Wyoming. Upon reaching those hillcrests, I surveyed semi-desert scrubland for miles around, without a tree in sight. I saw a few shrubs, but no trees.
As I approached Norfolk, Virginia (on I-64 by this time) I crossed a bridge that spans the James River on one side, and the Chesapeake Bay on the other. At this point, the James River is very wide. I compared that experience to crossing rivers in Wyoming. When I traveled through Wyoming it was late summer. The rivers we crossed would not even qualify as creeks in the east. In fact, some of them didn’t even hold any water! I know Wyoming’s rivers actually contain water in the spring, but in the late summer, bare riverbeds are sometimes the only signs that water occasionally trickles through.
Rivers, forests, deserts, prairies, mountains – North America is amazingly rich, diverse and beautiful. There are other parts of the world I want to see, eventually. But before I do that, I want to explore more of this beautiful continent I call home.