I never imagined the Midwest could be the home of so much corn.

They told me there would be corn, of course. But not that much corn.

The fields appeared when we left Denver; I knew they would, that the entirety of Kansas would consist of corn and cows and Dwight D. Eisenhower. I was unaware of the immensity of the corn kingdom, a monarchy consuming the land I believed would house tall buildings and cars and people and replacing my sense of mountainous home with a terrifyingly flat emptiness.

I'd never seen the appeal of horror movies until I'd driven through that corn.

And I loved it.

I knew mountains, and I knew pine trees. Magnolia trees and kudzu were part of an entirely new ecosystem. And I loved it.

Denver was a big city; St. Louis was its own state.

I sung for myself at home; I sung for a nice man in a Bluegrass t-shirt and Capitol Records badge in Nashville.

I drew a breath in Georgia, breathed the peach trees and water vapor and sunshine, felt the rich oxygen find my cells and actively remove the bitter remnants of a broken ecosystem.

My father's breath matched mine, and I thought I could see the wrinkles left by tears and frowns lift from his tired skin. Perhaps he wanted to share this time with me; perhaps he wanted the time to himself. Before, I would feel guilty acknowledging the latter possibility. But,

"There are Road Trips, and then there are Pilgrimages"

and this was a pilgrimage towards self, away from guilt and hurt and distrust.

This was a pilgrimage for me, and the presence of my family only solidified the fulfillment of two years thrown into the deep end of a shallow pool of independence.

My grandmother learned to text in order to keep in touch; I told her I would send her a smile whenever I rode her bicycle.

My mother cried when she informed me she had forgotten to write me a letter to read when I missed home; I told her she'd left me enough memories to fill Gray's Anatomy with letters.

My sister took my departure the hardest, but then an owl flew over my head and into a tree, and she knew it was the best place for me.

There are Road Trips, and then there are Pilgrimages.

I saw this on a billboard entering Kentucky, the sunlight catching the metal and my eye against the dense green hills hiding Chattanooga, Tennessee. And I felt it.

I saw fireflies in the bushes when the sun closed its eyes, made a friend in a bug who made the trip from Mt. Vernon to Atlanta on the door lock, let the sadness and guilt and stress melt away like the ice cream my father stopped to buy in Kentucky.

I was never tired during the 22 mile trek. Never bored.

The corn fascinated me, as did the trees, the food, the armadillos.

The people, too, and the Starbucks we ordered at every stop.

They made me think of the work I left behind, my family of partners in green aprons who left me a goodbye and goodluck after less than a month of mistakes.

There are road trips, and then there are pilgrimages.

A billboard for Jack Daniels on an empty highway in Kentucky.

I did not sever the relationships I planned to sever; I swallowed them, and let them power my eyes when my lids nearly became too heavy to keep open. They would not let me sleep. I would see everything, and then I'd make it home.

I made a friend here. His name is Jack.

He's from Louisville.