Photos & Text by Charley Zheng
Out here, I’m happiest when I’m driving by myself. When the wheels of my truck spin wildly from their axles to take me far beyond the invisible borders of the city. I love when the road comes bursting alive, as when a child lights up in the presence of toys, or ice cream. When the road unfurls into a line of infinite pavement, then shape-shifts into rhythmic circuits of curves, and with one hand on the upper arc of the steering wheel, the other languidly out the window, I give in to the road’s promise. A promise to take me somewhere, anywhere.
Yes: there’s something to being away from home that feels most like home. That sustained state of going that connects what I leave behind to a terminus at which I’ve not yet arrived. There is the sense of in between-ness that makes me feel the most complete; that it is in this placeless-ness that the world jumps into my arms.
It is in this placeless-ness that the world jumps into my arms.
Out here, my heart changes. It swells and expands to the movement of shifting landscapes: from the forests of noble firs standing tall to the parched expanses of dust and dirt laid bare. From rolling hills of juniper and sage, and acres of drifting volcanic ash to the mountains, those mighty mountains, spread infinitely across the horizon in jagged peaks, awash in heavy strokes of silver and pearl.
During longer trips, the passing of people and places become a kind of cinema, and the windshield, suddenly a movie screen, plays a feature film of faces: strange yet familiar characters singing in their sedans, smoking in their trucks. Families simply trundling along in their station wagons, and mad men (or women) shooting down the highway like bandits. But all of us sharing the asphalt and going, going, going.
Sometimes I imagine what the world would look like if all the intersections of lives born of the highway were suddenly made visible, like when a beam of light, shining at the right angle, concedes the presence of a spider’s web amidst the foliage. Do others ever wonder, too, at the ease in which our lives cross—just like that? How our worlds can meet a thousand other worlds in a flash, and how only some of them—really, very few of them—find their way and converge with ours?
It’s a show of possibility that the road plays for you, if you let it. A moving picture of chance, and luck, and serendipity. Not the image of steadiness and safeness most people prefer. That’s not what interests me.
Perhaps it’s the want of happenstance that keeps me in the story. The demanding curiosity to see what lies beyond the next sweeping turn. But that might be the consequence of my age–still in the springtime of life as they say—and still so much terrain to cover ahead. Perhaps it is that. And if it is that, then it’s not just a want. It’s a thirst. A voracious, unremitting, insatiable thirst. A bodily need, without which I’m nothing. Nowhere.
Out here, the highway gives way to scenes that are like whiskey; deep, gorgeous whiskey. The kind one takes for the soul. I drink them in and let them warm my belly, allow them to beckon my heart and draw it from its cave. For my heart hides most days, by the force of habit, but drunk on the sweetness of the land and the simplicity of movement which the wheels of my truck so easily instigate, it opens full and wide like the rising sun that climbs over the hills, the wildwood, the headlands, the meadows, the road.
Photos (C) 2015 Charley Zheng
Charley Zheng is a self-taught photographer living in Portland, Oregon. See more of her work on her portfolio, tumblr, and Instagram, linked below.