On Landing with the Beaver

This new beaver stroller suits me, and I'm going to Chicago. Uncut guard hairs, and I know, too warm for the latitude where we live. The sales clerk coveted the cut and sheen, but graciously told me she was pleased in that she wouldn’t now be dreaming of the beaver for herself.

It is December, and we’re leaving Texas for Chicago via Los Angeles. We’re going by train but to get to a train station, we must take a plane from this small town to Dallas. Excited, yes, but I'm lethargic waiting in this early morning for Bradley to pick us up for the drive to the airport. Monel and I should not have drunk the bottle of bon-voyage champagne Bradley sent over last evening. Should have packed it for the train or saved it to share with Bradley on a quiet evening after our return. Oh well...

Packing has been difficult: cold weather, warm weather, rain, snow, sun. A garment bag for heavy coats, a small bag for the train, two small bags to be checked, a bag for my lap top, and a bag for books and things. Stuff, and it's all too much, and so very heavy.

Bradley arrives, whisks us to the airport. A fog descends. This is crazy. We drive forty miles to an airport to fly three-hundred miles to a city with a train stop? Where are all the passenger trains in Texas, anyway?

Maybe we won't get up and out. Then what? Take the train tomorrow? But is doesn't run every day. Take another plane later today? Catch up with, chase the train with a car to San Antonio? I would so hate to go home now that we're packed and set to go. Would be a step into a past, where rooms are all too empty. Walking back through the front door would be an unwelcome intrusion into a space serene in its relief at our leaving.

Fog, and we wait, and I think there is little to write about as one starts a trip. I feel we’re in a vacuum. A veil of the day-to-day clings and too tightly. So what does one write? The idea for the trip? The beaver coat? The past, ordinary and tired?  The present that exists but is not yet understood? I slide into memory and then try to forget it is the planning, the dream of all that is hoped for, that is ever the best part a journey. Perhaps this is true for all things in this business of being.

So what's to hope for? What does one expect from a journey? To go from one place to another? Watch other people? Be a stranger? Be other? Live for a time beyond the skin of ones self? D.G. says S. really likes to travel, and I wonder why. What can it mean? My father once recalled a car trip to California in the 60s where, other than the family along with him, he had talked with only one person the whole time and that was a gas station attendant. He thought that was pretty terrible. I don’t remember him saying much else about that trip.

Travel is really quite awkward, everything—movement, food, sleep—a bit more, no, a lot more difficult than the ease and order of home. Maybe it's the landscape S. likes? The history? The people? Does she want to, like to talk to new people? Who knows about her? But me, I should know about me, know why I am ever taking planes, buses, trains, ships, open cars on open roads and know why it is now I am going to Chicago. 

Journey is perhaps a means of transcending routine, escaping the bind of compulsions and commitments, perhaps a way of reassuring ourselves we are indeed alive and perhaps yet flexible. So it is then that we so easily trust the resilience of the car tire, the wings of the plane, the heart of the pilot, the lay of the tracks, the function of the crossing guard, the navigation of the crew, the discretion of the engineer? We give up concern for and control of our safety? We give our trust to the movement forward, the thrust and noise of engines?

* * *

We rise through the lifting fog of West Texas to blue sky run through with strips of clouds.

* * *

Landing in Dallas, I watch air spiral off the tip of the wing, endless curls evaporating into the past, and I'm thinking about me inside the fur coat.

* * *

Nothing like traveling by train. A roll of freedom throbs through my body as if I can, through this train, out run time, and I hope for delays, hope for an extension of the length of the track, a pull over to a side rail, a length that maybe does not go end to end but circles to connect on itself again as all else does, the earth, molecules, the helix, a curve within and at a constant angle with the axis of this life.

Los Angeles, Chicago both great, wonderful food, jazz, walks, and the museums marvelous, the beaver absolute comfort in the bitter cold, and here we are off the train and taking off again into the air. I tell Monel I want to be buried with my beaver. He doesn’t listen, doesn’t understand that oneness is not one together with another but one exquisitely one with one’s self. Maybe that is what one finds in a journey.

Too soon we pull into Gate 4. End of journey, and I worry as we gather to leave the plane that, unlike the journey, the hours and days ahead promise little. The winter days will be bleakly predictable and surely not cold enough for wearing the beaver. Our lunches will be yesterday’s saltines with bowls of almost-hot vegetable soup, yet in my bag I do have Bill Walton's autograph to give to Bradley when he receives us just down the ramp....


Sandra Gail Teichmann-Hillesheim is the author of Killing Daddy, Slow Mud, and Woman of the Plains.

Categories: Airports, Airplanes, Features, Trips

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