Driving By Moonlight

Pet Travel Thursday

Destination: Continental U.S.

Book: Driving by Moonlight: A Journey Through Love, War, and Infertility (2003) by Kristin Henderson

By Pamela Douglas Webster

[NOTE: See Pamela’s thoughts about a pet as a substitute for a child as she discusses this book at Something Wagging This Way Comes.]

Need to clear your head? Take a drive.

But when the thoughts raging around your mind include pacifism versus revenge, the state of your marriage, the sorrow of infertility, and the nature of God? Then you better take a loooong drive. In Kristin Henderson’s case, the drive was across the continental United States and back again.

In the days following 9/11, while the World Trade Center site was still smoking, Kristin’s husband received his orders as a Navy Chaplain and shipped out with a platoon of Marines headed for Afghanistan. After saying goodbye to him, Henderson set out across the country in a midnight-blue 1978 Corvette on a private mission of her own, accompanied by an unjudgmental friend and traveling companion, Rosie the German Shepherd.

Pentagon - 9/14/01
The Pentagon Building on 9/14/01.

Henderson had dreamed of taking this trip since she was a teenager. But the teenager could never have imagined the ideas that would be flooding her mind at the miles passed under her tires, sometimes more than 400 each day. And what thoughts?

War & Peace – A practicing Quaker, Henderson knew that violence breeds violence. But as a DC resident, her feelings upon seeing the shattered walls of the Pentagon turned to thoughts of revenge rather than forgiveness.

Infertility – Henderson wanted to have a baby more than anything else. Her husband Frank was frightened that he would be no better a parent than his distant and rage-filled father and was dragged, reluctantly, into a year-long series of fertility tests and treatments. Buying the Corvette symbolized for Henderson the end of her quest and the acceptance of a new life without her own child.

Spirituality – At the core of Henderson’s marriage was a shared spirituality. Their relationship was not threatened by the writer’s embracing Quakerism while her husband was a Lutheran minister. But when Henderson expressed her uncertainty about the divinity of Jesus, the foundations of their marriage were threatened.

Long distances traveled through lonely landscapes gave the writer plenty of time to ponder these things. The silence of her companion kept her from being distracted by chatter. And the beauty of the surroundings healed her spirit.

Badlands National Park - South Dakota
Badlands National Park – South Dakota

Henderson is an expressive writer whose poetic descriptions create word pictures. Describing her entrance into the Badlands of South Dakota, she writes,

The road winds down into this jagged bony scar, and I wind down with it, slowing the Vette to stare at the stone that is rough, then smooth, then jagged—rows of short, sharp peaks like the toothy jaws of prehistoric sharks.

The stripped down landscape created a vessel for the writer’s contemplations. But the German Shepherd was the silent listener who provided company without argument.

Rosie had come to Henderson as a puppy surrogate to receive the nurturance looking for an outlet during the couple’s struggle to have a baby. But she grew into protector (Henderson mused on how Rosie could be fierce at every knock on the door while feeling relieved that the strong grasp on her collar relieved her of responsibility for doing anything more than putting on a show) and companion.

Rosie’s company made even traffic endurable.

Caught in Chicago rush hour, Henderson found herself seething with frustration.

…but Rosie likes going slow. It gives her time to hang out the window and eyeball the drivers in the other cars, speculate on whether she can scare the pee out of them, and bark.

Contemplative German Shepherd
Not Rosie. Just a beautiful German Shepherd traveling companion.

The shepherd also served as an example of Zen acceptance.

…Rosie is the living embodiment of the unlayered life. She goes through her days with no more than she can carry, which is to say, with nothing. Her bed, her backpack of toys and bowls and treats, her bag of food–all that is stuff I’ve added to her life.

In a year of increasingly complicated regimens to aid in conception, it’s easy to understand why Henderson might have envied her dog’s simple and “unlayered” life.

Henderson returned from her trip with all the layers she started out with. But they seemed somehow more orderly and composed. Those days on the road helped her integrate the disparate tendencies of her mind and heart.

Human greed and violence probably means we’ll always need warriors to protect us from the consequences of our mistakes. But human greed and violence means we’ll always need courageous people of conscience to save us from our worst selves. The world needs both Quakers and Marines. So does my marriage. And within myself, so do I.

It appears that thousands of miles with good company does clear the head.

Travel, for me, is as much about the internal as the external journey. It makes Driving By Moonlight an ideal travel memoir—beautifully written, honest, transformative.

It is also appealing because I’m inescapably drawn to the road trip, despite hating cars. How could I not be? The lure of the open road is one of the side gifts of American citizenship.

There’s a romance to hitting the road with only a dog for company. And if you’re doing hard, interior work, what could be more comforting than a shedding, slobbery friend who loves you even when you’re self-pitying or stressed out?

Despite feeling that hours spent driving over the American Plains in a loud sports car is a form of torture yet to be fully utilized for interrogation, I envy Henderson’s pilgrimage and the clarity it brought to her.

While I would not have wanted to live through Kristin Henderson’s struggles in the year before her road trip, I’m grateful to share in her touching and healing journey across the United States with Rosie.

To see photos from Kristin and Rosie’s trip, visit the author’s website.

Disclaimers: All the pictures here are from Flickr, and you can learn more about the photographers by clicking on each picture.  Links to Amazon provide a handy way for you to shop, and they are also affiliate links, meaning when you do your Amazon shopping through these links, I earn a few cents. Thank you for your support.

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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

13 thoughts on “Driving By Moonlight

  1. I love journey stories, and what she’s thinking about as she goes is all stuff I can relate to. I’m definitely going to pick this one up. Thanks for the suggestion.

    1. Well, does anything really ever get wrapped up? 🙂

      But I’d go to Henderson’s website where you can see what she’s been into since she published the book. One interesting thing–she’s now living in Japan.

  2. This sounds like a fabulous, complex, interesting and beautiful book. Just reading your review filled me with so much emotion! Love the idea of taking a road trip with an unencumbered loyal dog alongside. Company without interruption.

  3. Who doesn’t dream about hitting the road and seeing where it takes you? I’ve thought about making such a trip a lot but life gets in the way and responsibilities hail. I admire people like Kristin so much for taking the opportunity when it comes. I hope she was able to find the answers she was looking for.

  4. It sounds like this book turns a lot of stereotypes on its head: Corvettes, German Shepherds and the need to drive long distance to clear your head are usually the domain of male road literature. I’ll have to check it out.

    1. I think you’d like it. Until I read your comment, I didn’t think of the word “gutsy.” But I think it fits.

      It’s also an interesting exercise in managing complex material. Henderson jumps back and forth between the road trip, her philosophical musings, and retelling the events leading up to the trip while never losing control of her writing. It’s a pretty intricate work of nonfiction that reads like a novel.

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