Driving into the Distant Past

My night camping at Davis Bayou worked out so well, the next day I headed for Pensacola, hoping to get a campsight at Fort Pickens in the Forida part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, but that campground was full. I did get a chance to see Pensacola Beach with its white sand and dark turquoise waters, which was nice. I felt cold on the beach, but there were hundreds of people in meager swimsuits playing in the water, sunning themselves, or walking around. Ah, youth.

I might not have been lucky in finding a campsite for the night, but I was lucky to meet someone I have admired for six years — Mike Pettit, writer and promoter extraordinaire. We had a fabulous seafood lunch at an oyster bar near the beach, and an even more fabulous conversation.

But even good friends must part, so eventually I headed down the road.

Not finding another campsite, I continued driving. But even that part of my day was spectacular. For many miles, the moon rose in the middle of the road directly in front of me while the sun set in the middle of the road directly behind me. Truly a unique sight.

As lovely as the celestial evening was, that was not the highlight of my drive. The highlight was the revelation that came as I continued to drive the tree-lined highway. Ever since I left central Texas, the highways have been forested. Trees, mile after mile of trees for hundreds of miles. And today I realized the awesomeness of what I was seeing.

Although in many cases, the trees didn’t extend very far off the road, they were thick enough to appear endless. As if the highway were cut through an eternal forest.

Once upon a time, a forest did cover almost the whole of the United States. And as I was driving, it suddenly felt as if the highway were like a path to the past, and I could see that primordial forest all around me, millions upon millions of acres, and because of those hundreds of miles I’d driven, I could sense the forest’s magnitude and magnificence. What an experience!

I thought I was spinning my wheels, just driving, driving, driving, when all along I was preparing for the great revelation. There’s a lesson in there somewhere, though I don’t know what.

I do know that in the future, when I look back on this adventure, one of my fondest and most inspiring memories will be my long and seemingly unending drive into the distant past.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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