Barbara Lawlor, Nederland. A couple months ago, I took a cross-country road trip with Jane Wodening. We made it from coast to coast and back in 72 hours and it didn’t cost me a penny. In that time, I learned how a 50 year-old-woman deals with divorce, the upheaval of her life and her uncertain feelings of self-worth.
The trip was similar to what Australians call a Walkabout, a rite of passage during which indigenous males undergo a journey, between ages 10-16, to live in the wilderness, making the spiritual and traditional transition into manhood. It is often called “temporary mobility.”
Wodening chose to take a similar journey in the late 80s, after her divorce; she set off on a Driveabout, packing up Bobo, her newly acquired older yellow Honda Civic, to find out what to do next.
As she traveled, she wrote in her journal, describing the places she found to car camp, the people she met, the strange and wonderful things she learned about her country.
When she returned to Colorado, Wodening began her life as an author, writing of her experience living in the mountains, in Lump Gulch, in a cabin on the Fourth of July Road. She wrote about the animals, even the insects she has known in her life and her books have been treasured as personal, unique, lyrical and wise.
In the past year, Wodening went back in time to her journey, bringing out her journal, and writing “Driveabout,” a powerful memoir of a woman pushing through her rage and sorrow and coming to terms with her new normal.
I read “Driveabout” over a couple of days when the wind was blowing and the skies were gray and moody and I was longing to latch onto a book that would take me somewhere else. And it did. Traveling with Jane was funny and fun, sometimes sad but always powerful in its honesty. She took me to places I couldn’t imagine going to on my own. She introduced me to people I loved meeting.
It was the late 1980s and her decision to travel was somewhat based on previous advice from a writing professor, who told her, “Aggressive self-assurance.”
She did not allow fear to enter her psyche.
“Fear – hell, a woman alone in a strange and potentially hostile land, sleeping in a lithe hello car, shads of Deliverance, the horror movie. ‘Maybe I could bring someone alone,’ I thought, but only for a moment. Company would block my style, change my course. Company would decided what we would do, would therefor make the travel irrelevant to changes I nee to make in myself. I want to find my own route. I shall guard my own self. Aggression was a hard attitude for me to take; it didn’t seem quite what I could honestly fit myself into . I could look at it, though. The assignment was to write about, not to become. But self-assurance was something I needed like oxygen and I inhaled it ravenously.”
Jane didn’t realize at the time that almost three decades later she would be taking people like me on her journey.
Her first night was spent on Raton Pass wrapped in insulated overalls and a parka, sleeping in the tipped back front seat. It was December, it was cold; and she survived. She went on, stopping for awhile at the Bentley Wildlife Preserve; finding a friend at Apache Lake in Arizona and heading to Tucson.
Every stop she makes results in developing a relationship with the people she talks to. She shares these stories, sometimes poignant, sometimes hilarious, always intelligent and entertaining, packed with vivid descriptions of her surroundings; dialogue that bring characters to life. Characters it is difficult to say goodbye to.
Watching whales, becoming a docent at an early man site in the Mojave Desert, learning a degree’s worth of archeology, anthropology and geology, bringing the world to the reader.
The trip I took with Jane was one I have dreamed of and her story, her perspective, fulfilled that goal. The best part of it is knowing that I can do it again anytime I want, can linger over the places and people I was introduced to the first time.
Jane will be reading from her book and signing them on Thursday, April 20 at the Nederland Community Library.