#Merica Tour, Stories from the Road, Segment 20
(For links to previous segments, scroll to the bottom)
“There’s 75th,” I say, spotting the small sign among the overgrown greenery of the countryside.
“No, we’re going a different way,” Brent says, and drives on.
“We’re overshooting it?” I ask, dubious, because this is not Brent’s way.
“Yes,” he confirms.
This is intriguing. Brent has a plan—he always does—and whatever it is, he considered it from all angles. Random questions swirl in my mind and a couple even sneak out of my mouth before I stop, mid-question, remembering that I’m dealing with an introvert. Q&A with this particular introvert is much easier than this, more intuitive; the only requirement is using the fewest words possible. I instantly clam up, and just watch him and wait. And sure enough, in a moment he tells me exactly what I want to know. “There were instructions online that recommended it. The direct road is iffy, unless you’re in a truck,” he says. “We’ll only overshoot it by about a mile. I have alternative directions on the list.”
I consult the seven-page list of roadside stops and find the alternative route. “It would help if you’d let the navigator in on the plan,” I say.
“I just did,” he says, pleased with himself. We make a couple lefts and suddenly we’re on a gravel road, picking our way between Iowa fields. The road seems not quite two-cars wide, and it’s got the terrain of a well-traveled farm machinery path.
“I’d hate to see the iffy road,” I say as we bump and lurch along. Brent agrees.
We approach a tree line on our left and travel up a slight grade, but only slight. We’re scanning the horizon and stealing glances at the Jetta’s mileage gauge. “I don’t see it at all, do you?”
“Nope,” he says.
It’s not every day you find a tree in the middle of the road, and we discuss how grand, or perhaps cute, this tree might be. “Do you think it’s a hoax?” I ask.
“Maybe,” he shrugs without concern. “Seemed legit at the time, but I thought we’d see it by now.” We discuss this, and it’s not lost on me that we’re both chatting happily about being sent on this possible wild goose chase in the middle of Iowa. And really, why not? It got us off the beaten path.
Inching along, we crest the little grade and suddenly the tree we’re seeking is directly ahead of us. Now, we expected a sort of landmark tree between these fields, one that, despite the passage of time no one wanted to cut down, an interesting tree that would charm us as it must have done to the Iowans who circled the road around it. This tree is not what we expect; this tree is huge.
Brent stops the Jetta about ten yards from the intersection, just in case someone would come by, and we sit staring, blinking, then staring some more. “That’s a tree,” I say, as I stare and blink.
Brent agrees, “That’s a tree.”
We exit the Jetta and walk the distance, listening for distant signs of life but hearing only the breeze rustling in the fields and the gravel crunching under our feet. According to RoadsideAmerica.com, this is a 100-foot cottonwood tree, grown from a walking stick planted by a surveyor in 1850. I dug up this fact via the ever-helpful Google (as I searched for roadside tree hoaxes a minute ago), and Brent and I marvel that there was no telling it was even here until we crested that little slope.
The gravel road rings around the tree, making a sort of traffic circle with roads jutting off in four directions. There are even stop signs to allow for right of way, and the circle itself seems to have a lot less gravel than the straightaways, all of which suggest to me both heavy travel and roadside fun–and all with a hundred-foot tree smack dab in the center.
The more we look around, touch the tree, and photograph it, the more it seems not to have grown up from the ground but to have landed here, set apart and at its full majesty. It seems a trick of the mind, like an M.C. Escher design. And there’s not a soul around to tell us we’re not dreaming. I breathe in the scent of sun and earth and flowers and I switch perspectives, imagining a satellite view of where we stand, like pins on a map in the fields in Iowa while friend and family pinpoints pop up all over the world, and I want each of them to share this feeling with me, the feeling of wonder and potential.
This is why we road trip. This is why a person drives into the unknown and decides to get out of the car. Here we stand in the middle of America and it seems that reality is not the same anymore. And that means we’re standing in a world where anything is possible.
(For previous Stories from the Road, click here: Segment 19, Segment 18, Segment 17, Segment 16, Segment 15, Segment 14, Segment 13, Segment 12, Segment 11, Segment 10, Segment 9, Segment 8, Segment 7, Segment 6, Segment 5, Segment 4, Segment 3, Segment 2, Segment 1)