As a small child, and older child, awkward teen, and young adult, I was convinced of several things. One, that ice cream really could not be classified as junk food, two, that most things seemed better when viewed over a cup of tea (or chai) and three, that life began and ended within a two hour drive of the ocean. I remain convinced of all three of these things.
There are times when my overwhelming distance from the seas of my youth (really ALL of my life thus far) catches up with me, and I am left hyperventilating in a corner somewhere staring at my bathroom sink and imagining it as a body of water. This is melodramatic. Especially with a beautiful river practically in my backyard.
Which brings me, of course, to the Pancake of Nothingness.
When Americans first began to envision this proud and powerful nation without the pesky indigenous tribes that for some reason lived here, they decided the best solution would be to send them to The Great American Desert, the "empty" land west of the Appalachians. They weren't aware yet of the Rocky Mountains, but if they were, I am confident that they would have set those tall peaks as the most western limit of this desert.
Despite the fact that I never saw myself living there, I always thought the title "The Great American Desert" was a bit harsh, after all, prairie is patently not a desert. In fact, really, the sand beaches and blank expanses of the ocean have more in common with a desert than the vast and varied prairie. So instead I came to think of the area of the country conventionally called "The Mid-West" as more of dead zone. A flat and featureless land (the vast and varied prairie having been rapidly eradicated by American settlers, perhaps embarrassed by their desert related error) where nothing much happened and nothing much would ever happen. It became, in my mind, The Pancake of Nothingness.
In fact, this was the ONLY job I applied for within the limits of The Pancake of Nothingness, and when I drove away from my humble home in PA, I said my sad farewells to the seagulls that some times mistakenly blow in from Jersey. And, sadder still, when I left Maryland some days before, I said many more heartbroken farewells to the heavy bay breezes and salt laden summer nights.
The further we drove the more certain I became that the Pancake had firmly settled upon me. The land grew flatter, and the crosses loomed larger and larger as Squeaky and the Trailer shivered in their dark and omnipresent shadow. Words like St. Louis and Chicago on the road side signs offered some promise of real civilization, as least as I knew it, but the distances to those mythical places all numbered in the triple digits. Until, that is, we reached Missouri.
The sun was shining, I recall, on a day almost perfectly without a cloud. Against the backdrop of the city of St. Louis, I could see the silver arch, the Gateway to the West. The streets I looked down on from my car, as it sailed across overpasses, were wide and flat, not narrow and squat, like my beloved, grimy, Philadelphia. The west could have its Arch, and fried ravioli, I wanted greasy cheese-steaks and the LOVE statue.
When we left the city, however, we began to climb. Over and through mountains, craggy and thickly furred with trees. We climbed and climbed, and as we did the day grew cooler. A breeze sprang up. Missouri, while geographically located within the Pancake of Nothingness, really has very little in common with it.
In fact, during the day, it honestly puts me more in mind of Vermont or Virginia, a state with some nod towards the coast, and sometimes when I stand near the Robidoux River I am certain I can see it's long silver journey to the sea. At night, the world grows different. Cold. I smell stone and earth, and a different sort of air. And we aren't even that far into this mountain chain. Life in the mountains, while it lacks the maritime charm that will one day call me back home, is not without appeal.
For one thing, the temperature is nicer.