‘A foot and light hearted I take to the open road” begins Walt Whitman’s celebratory poem of travel and discovery. Although co-opted by a Volvo TV commercial, this lyrical opening to “Song of the Open Road” can still touch something deep within our peripatetic souls. Humans were made to move, and move we do, sometimes seeking great adventures and sometimes just seeking refuge from the cold.

Chiseling the concrete-like snow encasing my car the day before my wife and I were to take to the open road for two months, heading south, I couldn’t have been happier to be leaving Maine the following morning. It was late January and I’d already had enough of winter, even though it hadn’t yet been a particularly harsh one. Such was the disposition of my weather-weakened will, once founded on flintier, firmer stuff.

Another iconic American author, John Steinbeck, wrote: “What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” This insight from a guy who spent most of his life living in temperate coastal California, where winter means a brisk ocean breeze and temps in the low 40s. In Maine, we call that summer.

I suppose it’s probably true that we do only appreciate things by contrast. Like the story of the man who was asked by a shocked passer-by, “Why do you keep hitting yourself on the head with that hammer?” And the man’s response: “Because it feels so good when I stop.”

So it goes, just when you’re ready to sell the Maine house and buy that Florida condo, you begin to realize that a few things about your home state hold up pretty well by contrast. Take car traffic.

Anyone who’s complained about rush-hour traffic in Portland (especially that nasty snarl of road rage-inciting madness called Morrill’s Corner) would quickly reconsider their opinion when faced with the deadly, drive-at-your-peril gravitational fields that surround the southern metropolises of Baltimore and D.C. These massive vehicular vortexes threaten to suck you into car-devouring black holes from which nothing – not you or your tail lights – can ever escape.

Maine also looks half-decent on the development front, compared to the land of gated communities and strip malls. Those enclosed residences, with security guards stationed at their entrances, give the impression of a bunker mentality. And the miles of franchise-laden strip malls that line Florida’s highways present a soul-sapping, cookie-cutter consumerism. Driving through this Valley of Ashes, you feel like you’ve died and gone to Banana Republic Hell.

As our winter escape comes to its inevitable end, I find myself thinking about my thawing yard and gardens, and the signs of life that surprise me there every April. I visualize trout fishing the spring-fed streams and rivers. And anticipate the green explosion of leaf-out in mid-May.

The Sunshine State has many charms (great beaches, urban sophistication, Cuban food), but now we’re coming home. We turn the car around and head north, toward Maine. The way life should be? Damn right.

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