Unfolding the Map
As we cross into another state, Arizona, we peruse on portals, gateways and doorways and where they may lead us. William Least Heat-Moon hopes it might be Paradise, but we'll see. Click on the thumbnail of the map at right to see where Portal, Arizona is located.
"I crossed into Arizona and followed a numberless, broken road. A small wooden sign with an arrow pointing west:
"The pavement made yet another right-angle turn, and a deep rift in the vertical face of the Chiricahuas opened, hidden until the last moment. How could this place be? The desert always seems to hold something aside....
"...Portal consisted of a few rock buildings, and not a human anywhere."
Blue Highways: Part 4, Chapter 12
In an earlier post along another journey, when we were traveling through St. Louis with Jack Kerouac, I wrote about a gateway. America is full of gateways. In that post, I spoke of gateways being portals to someplace different. In this quote, I like how LHM enhances the directional sign to Portal and Paradise with a passage about how the place he is entering is so different than anything he's ever experienced. You wonder if he'll find Paradise. Instead, he first doubts he'll find anything, then he sees an opening in the mountains, and finally encounters Portal as a small empty settlement.
Have you ever had that kind of "oh my God!" moment when you're traveling? A moment when you turn a corner, travel through a mountain pass, or emerge from a forest or fog and experience a sense of wonder at what lies in front of you? I have had those types of moments every so often in my journeys around the U.S. and abroad and when they come, they have stayed with me. When I was 15, my family made our only really big family trip. We took a cruise from Vancouver, British Columbia to Alaska. The ship was a Soviet cruise ship, hammer and sickle proudly emblazoned on the smokestack, called the MV Odessa. It had screws on the sides of the ship, so it could turn around in one place. That meant that we could go into narrow fjords, right up to the sides of glaciers, and then turn around and go out. Just being able to go between those high cliffs through still fjord waters was an amazing experience, and the wildlife - bear, eagles, orcas, seals were just the lagniappe.
My first and only trip to Yosemite National Park was also amazingly breathtaking. I drove through a gap in the Sierras, a true portal, into the most magnificent landscape that I've ever seen. El Capitan, Half Dome, all the landmarks made famous by Ansel Adams in black and white were there in front of me, towering over a gorgeous valley in full color.
I once drove through West Virginia. I didn't know much about the state, but I had decided to take blue highways of my own. Coming around a turn, I suddenly found myself at an impressive overlook. It was the New River Gorge providing me with another magnificent travel portal. I was inspired deeply, and wrote a poem for my girlfriend based on the fall colors of the vegetation around the gorge.
Standing on top of the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park, looking out over the border into the Mexican Chihuahuan Desert, I had another moment of wonder and a feeling of joy that I was alive and able to experience such a view.
There have been many others. Standing on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Looking out toward a live volcano in El Salvador, and later walking on the side of one with steam coming out of small vents along the trail. Standing on the edge of the Jamuna River, huge in width, in Bangladesh watching a rainstorm on the river in late afternoon light during the monsoon season. Walking through the forest to stand where Hildegard von Bingen entered the convent in the early part of the last millenium. Standing at the edge of the Roman Colosseum. Seeing Lake Michigan for the first time and being amazed at the immensity of this inland sea that they call a "lake." Seeing the Mackinac Bridge - the third longest suspension bridge in the world - in the middle of nowhere in northern Michigan. Gazing on the ruins of Chaco Canyon in the twilight. I'm sure there are others I can think of. I know there are others who have traveled more extensively than I, and therefore have enjoyed more wonder-filled moments, but i treasure the ones I have experienced.
However, my favorite portal is always the one closest to my heart. When I drive Highway 20 in California west from Willits and toward my hometown, and the forest opens onto the ocean, I know that I'm back to the familiar. The gateways we travel through to get to paradise or to places of trial are also the ones that bring us back home. As we'll see in the next couple of posts, the portal that LHM travels through, slightly hoping for paradise, will give him cause to wonder, and worry. But he's traveling and moving through life, he will eventually find home, and that's all that matters.
I was looking through my music and found the song that perfectly fits this post. Tish Hinojosa is a Texas singer-songwriter who I saw many times when I lived in San Antonio. This song, Destiny's Gate, has a lyric in the refrain that reads:
You find a road and you pave it
A long lost love and you save it
So much of the past sees tomorrow at destiny's gate
Enjoy Tish, and enjoy whatever places your portals lead you!
If you want to know more about Portal
Next up: On the Cave Creek near Portal, Arizona