A Small Part of the Picture

News Flash! To celebrate that Artemis Invaded is now available for preorder both in hard cover and audio, we’re doing a contest on Twitter to win a signed ARC.  Just retweet the announcement pinned at the top of @ JaneLindskold.  Contest ends 4/26/15.  Open only to U.S. residents.  Want to know more about the Artemis Awakening series?

And now to our regularly scheduled Wandering…

Antelope.  Buffalo.  Armadillo (all dead at the side of the road).  Enormous wind farms.  Sheep and goats. Lots and lots and lots of cows.  Horses, including a higher than average number of pintos and palominos.  Country music as backdrop in most stores and restaurants.

Driving the Thin Dark Line

Driving the Thin Dark Lineand restaurants.

Guessed where Jim and I were last weekend?  Yep.  We were in Texas.  We were visiting Jim’s folks, who live in Keller (which is near Fort Worth).  Because they wanted us to take some stuff home with us, we chose to drive, rather than fly.

Ever since I moved to New Mexico in 1994, I’ve come to realize how few people, especially those who live “back East,” have a sense of just how great the distances are in the American West.

My favorite example of this was when my mom moved to the Phoenix, Arizona, area.  People kept saying, “How nice that your mother has moved closer to you!”  And I’d say, “Well, she’s certainly closer than when she lived in Washington, D.C., but I wouldn’t call a seven to eight hour drive (most of which is done at 75 mph) exactly ‘close.’  You could make it from D.C. to Ohio in that time, and I don’t think you’d call that ‘close.’”

People would look very puzzled, as if I couldn’t possibly be right.  I think this is because maps are deceptive.  If you look at a map, New Mexico doesn’t look all that much bigger than the larger East Coast states like Pennsylvania.  However, you can drop two of Pennsylvania into New Mexico with room left around the edges.

All of Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut  could be neatly fit inside New Mexico’s borders, a couple of times.  Texas could take all of the above plus Maine, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, without squishing, if you fit it in on a diagonal.

If Jim and I had done the drive to Keller in one shot, stopping only for lunch and fuel, we could have done it in about ten hours.  However, that would have left us fairly useless when we got there, so we stayed the night in Quanah, Texas, which enabled us to arrive at Jim’s folks with energy to go out and have fun.

Visiting Quanah is a little like going back in time.  Except for where the interstate goes through town, most of the houses we saw were older.  Some of the residential areas had brick streets.  The total population was listed as under 3,000.  We didn’t meet all of them, but I will say that those we met were very friendly.  On Thursday, we had dinner at the Depot (which had been constructed from two old train depots).  We chatted with the owners, learning that they’d only recently reopened after a nasty fire, which had necessitated a lot of interior remodeling.  Sadly for Jim, who loves model railroads, it had also destroyed the “G” Scale railroad that used to run around the rooms.

When we checked in at the Best Western, the front desk clerk was mopping the store with the help of her five year-old son.  He went with her behind the desk and solemnly repeated all the check-in instructions before proudly handing us our key.  We were urged to come out and take advantage of the fresh cookies she had in the breakfast room oven right then.

The next morning, the same woman was back on duty, after only a four hour break, but was just as cheerful.  Despite the limited options available in Quanah, especially on a Sunday night, Jim and I thought we’d stop there again if we were out that way, this time making sure we arrived in time to visit the historical museum.

Another thing that maps just can’t show is how empty parts of the west are…  We’d drive for hours through nothing but pastureland.  Keeping an eye on the gas gauge was crucial.  Our vehicle gets good mileage, but when the next gas station is a hundred miles away, you’d better not let the tank get too low.  Running out of gas is a non-trivial event.

One thing I really enjoyed about the drive was watching the surrounding landscape change.  New Mexico’s rocky, arid landscape is very familiar, but I have never ceased to enjoy its sculptured quality.  The plains can be hypnotic, in the way that monotonous flat areas are, but on our way to Texas, several storms were brewing and made for amazingly dramatic clouds.

The further we got into Texas, the more green and lush our surroundings became.  By the time we arrived in Keller, if I’d just been shown a photograph, I’d have assumed we were in southern Maryland, not Texas.  The season seemed to get later, too.  In Albuquerque, we were just out of apple blossom time.  In Texas, roses and other summer flowers were in full bloom.  This seemed all the stranger, since back home we were still concerned about a late frost (which we got, but so far it doesn’t seem to have hurt anything, too severely, except, maybe one crepe myrtle).

Now we’re settled back into our dry home state, where cotton from the cottonwoods is swirling through the air.  Next trip.  New Mexico through Colorado, up into Utah for Conduit in Salt Lake City over Memorial Day weekend…  Once again, the map will only be a small part of the picture.

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8 Responses to “A Small Part of the Picture”

  1. Alan Robson Says:

    Distances — I’ve never understood distances. I’ve always lived in small countries. Nevertheless the psychology is the same. When I was a child living in Halifax (West Yorkshire), a trip to Leeds (all of 30 miles away) was an enormous journey that required a week of careful planning.

    Robin grew up in Australia (a BIG country) and she understands distances in a way that I never will.

    Weird, eh?


    -Alan

    • Louis Robinson Says:

      Not at all. Or rather, Yes,it’s weird, but I’m so used to it it almost seems normal.

      Grew up on the prairies, now live in large Eastern city, in between lived many years in the Eastern Caribbean. Urbanites, in many ways, are far more insular than the Islanders were 😉

    • Peter Says:

      I think that for a lot of us distance is more psychological than physical – we tend to think in terms of travel time, not miles (or kilometres or li or stadia or whatever your favourite unit of measurement may happen to be).

      The thing is that the two don’t necessarily correlate very well. In my head I think of London to Edinburgh (~400 miles) as being about the same distance as Santiago, Chile to Mendoza, Argentina (~200 miles, but there’s a mountain range in between) because the driving time is about the same.

      The effect gets even stronger when you change your default means of transportation. I don’t have a car, so I measure distance in terms of “how long does it take to walk/get there on public transportation?”, so for me downtown Beijing (about 45 minutes, including taking a cab to the train station) is closer than downtown Tianjin (the city I live in a suburb of. It takes me closer to an hour and a half by a combination of bus and subway). If you drive, the perceived distances are quite different – about 45 minutes to downtown Tianjin, and 3-5 hours to downtown Beijing, depending on how awful the traffic is. (Being Beijing the question is not “Is the traffic bad?” it’s “How bad is the traffic?”).

      • janelindskold Says:

        Yes! I had to make the decision to give distance according to miles or according to time. I chose time because I thought it better served my point.

        I really don’t think most modern Americans understand how long a mile is unless they’re walkers or joggers or whatever. Otherwise, a mile is just a quick jaunt in a car.

  2. Heteromeles Says:

    Since I’m strongly map oriented, it always amazes me how people get around without thinking in at least two dimensions. I’m not sure how much of it’s a small space/big space mental divide, and how much of it’s not being able to process town names and miles on a map into hours of driving, the size of mountain ranges, and all that. I know people who, as adults, can’t read maps, and their view of the world is bizarre to me.

  3. Eric Says:

    Distances have made an impression on me from driving north/south in the Southeast where I live. It takes a very long time to drive from north GA to south FL, almost as long as it takes to drive from north GA to New York! And going west, it takes as long to drive to Texas from here as it takes to drive through just Texas, near about.

  4. Paul Dellinger Says:

    I’m still boggled by how many Earth’s could fit into Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.

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