Persuasion

A metal toggle switch with plate reading Listen and Ignore, symbolizing how we choose to pay attention to certain messages

Recently I shared an article on Facebook by a Bernie-supporting Hillary skeptic who articulated his reasons for voting for her. He’d decided the volatile political climate and the increasing unreliability of polls made it too risky–even in “safe” states–to stay home or to vote for a third-party candidate.

I had not heard this argument before, and wanted to inject this thoughtful piece into a discourse largely dominated by bashing from both sides of the political divide.

Right away a Facebook friend I haven’t seen since college commented: “Don’t you think that incessantly hectoring people might have the effect opposite to that desired?”

I was taken aback. My posting rate on Facebook hardly qualifies as incessant. Besides, there was nothing remotely hectoring about this article. Still, there’s no denying that my motivation in sharing it was to persuade reluctant voters to choose Hillary.

I decided to engage with rather than ignore my friend. He immediately replied that he didn’t mean me personally, “but that the daily attacks on the folk who are not gung-ho for HRC, including the accusation that we are women-haters, are really counterproductive.” He likened well-meaning attempts at political persuasion to the noxious proselytizing meant to convert people from one religion to another. Besides, it made him think that Hillary’s supporters lacked the faith that she should and could win, and found their apocalyptic pronouncements about not voting for the Un-Trump unhelpful.

His response reminded me of a party I attended right before the 2004 election. Amid a dozen or so Chardonnay-sipping liberals eternally bitter over the selection of W four years earlier was one lone Nader supporter. Unrepentant, he planned to vote for Nader again.

“How COULD you?” everyone exploded in unison. As we all moved in for the oh-so-persuasive kill, I could see this man’s jaw tighten, his posture stiffen. You can probably guess who he voted for.

I’ve learned a lot since that encounter—if you want to preach outside the choir, it’s better not to screech or beseech. Still, there are reasons to try. Or was my Facebook friend a case in point that such attempts invariably backfire?

Recently I’ve had many conversations with my friend Linda (who also doesn’t like Hillary but who will vote for her). She has been talking with her son and his friends, most of them young, fervent Bernie supporters who care deeply about racial justice. They now feel totally disillusioned by the political process, seeing little difference between the parties and no point in voting. Linda has a lot of empathy for this viewpoint, and mostly listens. But when she does talk, whatever she has to say doesn’t only fall on deaf ears—it closes those ears further.

Periodically I send things with a fresh or compelling perspective to Linda, saying, “What about this? Could this help?” One was a recent column by Charles Blow. Linda was almost persuaded until the last paragraph:

Protest voting or not voting at all isn’t principled. It’s dumb, and childish, and self-immolating. I know you’re young, but grow up!

With those words, Blow blew it. Of course, Linda never forwarded the article to her son, and has wisely stopped talking to him about the election altogether.

Years ago Republican pollster Frank Luntz quipped, “The trouble with Hillary is she reminds everyone of their first wife.” She also reminds people of their mothers. There are legitimate reasons to be skeptical of Hillary, but this unconscious association has gotten short shrift in understanding the level of antipathy generated by the candidacy of the first woman who has a shot at the presidency. Often what mothers say, no matter how wise and well-intended, has the effect of generating resistance. You should listen to your mother, but do you really want to? Middle-aged mothers like me who are trying to persuade others, especially young people, may only be perpetuating the maternal nag problem.

Is it possible to change people’s minds? We are now inundated with 24/7 information and misinformation, and live in silos that reinforce our worldview while keeping out other perspectives. Social science research demonstrates that when people are shown evidence contradicting their firmly held beliefs, they don’t reconsider; instead, they double down.

If one person’s persuasion is another’s hectoring, what’s a mother to do? What’s a concerned citizen to do?

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 Have you tried to influence anyone’s vote in this election season? Has anyone tried to influence yours? What works and doesn’t work?

 

 

When Will It Be Over?

giant-meteor-2016Please! Make it stop!

That’s how a lot of people are feeling about the 2016 presidential election. So I had to chuckle when I saw the novel solution to this endless and demoralizing campaign season proposed on the above bumper sticker.

Still, planetary annihilation seems a steep price to pay, especially when you consider that the race will actually end one way or another in just a few weeks.

So rather than clutching our heads and moaning, “When will it be over?” a better question is “When it’s over, how do you want things to be?”

For me, the choice is easy.

For starters, I’d like a president who actually believes that climate change is real, so will try to do something to prevent planetary annihilation.  Or not bring it about more catastrophically than even a giant meteor would:

“I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.”  — Tony Schwartz, the repentant ghostwriter of  The Art of the Deal, in conversation with Jane Mayer of The New Yorker.

On a less dire note, I’d like a president with steadiness and grit.

I’d like a president with lifelong dedication to public service and fighting tirelessly to improve the lives of children, women, families, and ordinary Americans.

I’d like a president who will appoint Supreme Court justices who will uphold a woman’s right to choose and overturn Citizen’s United.

I’d like a president who will build upon and improve Obamacare so that everyone can have high-quality and affordable healthcare.

I’d like a president who will make college more affordable and create good-paying jobs for the world we live in now.

I’d like a president who is famous for the ability to listen, do the homework required to understand complex issues, work collaboratively even with people whose views are different, and find solutions to vexing problems.

I’d like a president with experience, heart, keen intelligence, and respectability on the international stage.

I’d like a president who doesn’t insult and mock people, incite violence and prejudice, cheat people, lie routinely, drive businesses into the ground, and require 24/7 attention.

That’s why I’m voting for Hillary Clinton. And spending my free time volunteering to help elect her.

Sure, I’m not thrilled about her hawkishness or the self-inflicted wounds we sometimes see. But even if she’s not my ideal candidate, I’d vote for her even if I didn’t think her opponent would be an unmitigated disaster whose elevation to the highest office would reward and reinforce all that is worst in America.

Fortunately, I like and admire Hillary, and think she’d make an excellent president. But if you share only my misgivings about Trump and not my enthusiasm for her, you can still vote while holding your nose.

That’s it. That’s the choice. No third-party votes or staying home to “send a message.”

Because that message might result in President Donald Trump.

I’d rather withstand a giant meteor.

 

 

 

Fifteen Years Out

Candle in the darkIt’s been fifteen years since nineteen men on a suicide mission turned the Twin Towers into smoldering rubble and America into a traumatized nation. I turned off the TV soon after the horror broke. Back then, I had no need of seeing the black billows of toxic smoke on continuous loop, the skyscrapers imploding again and again. Instead I fastened on stories of humanity’s best in response to humanity’s worst—people standing in line for hours to donate blood; young kids emptying their piggybanks for the Red Cross; volunteers forming brigades to get food and supplies to rescue workers; the heroism of first responders; outpourings of sorrow and support from all over the globe.

It’s hard to remember such ordinary and extraordinary acts of kindness and courage now, obscured as they are by what often seems a world in flames. Those planes flew not only into the heart of financial and political power, but right into our collective psyche, fracturing a unifying moment into long-lasting reverberations of fear and vengeance.

As we commemorate the trauma that has so shaped our new century, I’ve found again a remnant of hope. The Red Bandanna: A Life. A Choice. A Legacy, by Tom Rinaldi, recounts the story of Welles Crowther, a 24-year-old volunteer firefighter turned equities trader who led people from the 78th floor of the burning South Tower to safety, returning again and again to rescue others before dying himself when the building collapsed. His body was found six months later. Those whose lives he’d saved remembered him for his red bandanna, something he’d worn since his father gave it to him at age seven.

The NPR segment in which I learned about the Man in the Red Bandanna featured Crowther’s mother, Alison, speaking at the dedication of the National September 11 Memorial in 2014. Here’s what she said:

“It is our greatest hope that when people come here and see Welles’s red bandanna, they will remember how people helped each other that day, and we hope that they will be inspired to do the same in ways both big and small. This is the true legacy of September 11th.”

Her words bring back to me what I felt in that briefest of pauses fifteen years ago, when people’s love and generosity and courage prevailed over hatred and fear.

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What are your thoughts on this anniversary of 9/11?

 

Rocky Mountain High!

The last time my husband Jonathan and I hiked the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park, our daughter Emma–now 28–was 3 months old and scrunched at the bottom of a Snugli. When we reached the highest elevation, we heard strange little gasps emanating from the carrier, so we raced down to lower altitudes so as not to deprive our newborn of oxygen.

This time around, we were the ones gasping for oxygen, at least for the first couple of acclimatizing days. Here are some highlights from 9 days of hiking:

And here is Inkwell and Brew, the café in Estes Park where we’d go for lattes, almond-poppy-seed bread, and decent wi-fi to reward ourselves after our treks:

IMG_0908

I know you’re supposed to unplug on vacation, but one of the most delicious aspects of our vacation besides baked goods was following the news of Donald Trump’s many self-inflicted wounds and plummeting poll numbers. Here is my screen shot from FiveThirtyEight’s August 7 predictions:Polls on vacationMay he keep up the good work, and get to earn the long vacation he so richly deserves!

Jonathan has a cousin in Newfoundland who has been encouraging us to visit for some time, so we decided to take him up on his offer. Since Denver’s east of San Francisco, we were practically already there! Why not just extend our trip?

We stopped first at Quebec City for a dose of walled-city charm after the limitless grandeur of the Rockies, and to scope out the emigration possibilities should Trump prove correct in his prediction that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and still not lose any votes. .

Quebec City is where the English eventually defeated the French, although you might assume a different outcome given that Quebec is the only Canadian province in which French remains the sole official language (the entire country is officially bilingual).

 

IMG_0945Despite the ubiquitous cannons glorifying the constant battles between the French and the English, we loved the beautiful old city:

 

After two days in Quebec City and two flights to Newfoundland, we learned that some time zones are on the half hour and that cousin John and his wife Elizabeth are the most gracious and generous of hosts. IMG_0957They showed us a grand time on the water and in the cafes close to their home in Corner Brook, including a night of traditional music.

 

We also took a fabulous boat tour and hike in Gros Morne National Park, where trails end at Adirondack chairs instead of cafes.

We said goodbye to the green of Newfoundland and returned home to drought-scorched California. My journey continued the very next morning to Long Beach with Emma, where she is starting an MFA program in drawing and painting. Now she’ll be closer to sea level, fighting for oxygen in the atmosphere of greater Los Angeles.

Katie at Long Beach Bluff 8.2016

You’ve come a long way, baby!

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Vacation highlights?

Is It Safe?

Earth from space“Do you think I should still go to Israel?” our 25-year-old daughter Ally asks. She’s nervous after the June 8th  shooting deaths in a popular Tel Aviv market.

“Security’s incredibly tight there, so you’re probably safe,” my husband reassures her.

“I confess it makes me nervous,” I chime in, “But who would have thought before this weekend that it was risky going to Orlando, Florida? These things are incredibly scary, but still really rare.”

They don’t seem rare to Ally. She was 8 years old when two teenagers unloaded their lethal anger at Columbine; 10 when the Twin Towers fell; 12 when we went to war against Iraq. Ally was terrified whenever planes flew over her middle school, afraid they’d drop bombs. Mass shootings have unfolded with increasing regularity throughout her life—Virginia Tech, Aurora, Tucson, Newtown. A year after Ally graduated from the University of California at Santa Barbara, a disgruntled young man murdered six students on the same streets she had walked along every day during college.This Friday marks the first anniversary of Dylan Roof’s murderous rampage in a South Carolina church. The Planned Parenthood gunman, San Bernardino, Orlando–the list goes on and on, though many more daily gun homicides and suicides never make the news.

“Has it gotten worse?” Ally asks. “Were you scared growing up?”

We recount the threat of nuclear war, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Cold War, the assassinations of JFK, MLK, and RFK, the war in Vietnam, Jonestown, the murders of Harvey Milk and George Moscone. These were our times. People just a few years older feared polio. Our parents lived through all this as well as the Great Depression and WWII.

The truth is, though, that I was never scared. Even the possibility of my older brothers and male friends getting drafted seemed abstract. The outside world seemed far away, the violence less random.

But now with news feeds implanted in our brains 24/7, the outside world has broken through.

My family is lucky. We’ve never had to flee a war zone, worry about catching a stray bullet walking in our neighborhood, gone hungry or homeless, been brutalized by police or bullied for being different.  Ally fears an infinitesimally small possibility, not the grinding daily reality too many live.

I remind Ally of a service trip to Mexico she made a few years earlier with a church group. Before they left, the minister tried to assuage parents’ anxiety about drug violence.

“The world is a risky place,” she said. “I worry each time my own children travel to faraway countries. But then I realize that the far greater risk comes from never leaving home.”

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How do you answer the question, “Is it safe?”

 

 

Baby Blue

Baby BlueWhen I called our insurance company to put our brand new, baby blue car on the policy, the agent asked, “How many miles are you planning to put on it?”

“None,” I confessed. “I’m afraid to drive it.”

Our old car was riddled with dents and scratches. Naturally, I blamed our daughters, who’d learned to drive on it.

Would our pristine Baby Blue suffer the same fate?

“We won’t let them touch this one!” I’d vowed to my husband.

In all honesty, though, I was responsible for at least half the damage to our old car. I had even dented its front left fender while pulling into the garage the very first day we drove it home from the dealer.

The fact that our new baby was all-electric intensified my fears. The car was either eerily quiet or emitting weird beeps. We couldn’t tell if the engine was on or off, or how to work the lights and windshield wipers. And it was so tiny!

My husband and I felt just like we did as new parents coming home from the hospital with our perfect infant. Was she still breathing? What did those strange noises mean? How badly would we mess her up?

Still, there’s no going back. Just as kids can’t remain in a bubble, cars can’t stay in garages forever. Baby Blue just turned a year old, with close to 8,000 miles on it. Our daughters, now in their twenties, have traveled around the world a time or two. So far, everyone’s made it through pretty much unscathed. There’s a ding in the car’s windshield, but I’m happy to report it happened on my husband’s watch. As for the dings our daughters have taken on, it’s anyone’s guess how they got there.

In either case, life bangs you up a bit, but hopefully doesn’t flatten you.

And if anything big goes wrong with Baby Blue–well, that’s what insurance is for!

Too bad it doesn’t cover raising kids!

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That “first ding” fear with cars or kids?

Advice

adviceMy mother dispensed some puzzling advice: “Don’t grow old,” she was fond of saying.

This always brought me up short.  It seemed hard to imagine that the woman who thought I was God’s gift to the universe was advocating my early death.

Less morbid but equally impossible was another one of my mother’s favorite sayings: “Don’t be like me!”

This is like asking a duckling not to imprint on the first living creature it sees. For better or for worse, we women bear the stamp of our mothers.

My advice to my own daughters is more pragmatic:

  • Pay off your credit cards on time and in full every month.
  • If you want to save money, never order alcohol at a restaurant.
  • The secret to delicious cakes, cookies, and brownies is to always under bake them.

What I’m really saying to my daughters, of course, is DO be like me—sober, responsible, with no greater vice than a sweet tooth. That way, assuming your sugar consumption is under control, you’ll be sure to grow old, with a measure of financial security to boot!

My daughters, now in their mid-twenties, roll their eyes at my advice. They find it hilarious that I’ve never had a hangover.

“Have you ever had ANY fun?” they ask.

“I have fun!” I protest. “I hike, go to the movies, listen to NPR . . . “

I’m beginning to see how I sound just as impossible to my daughters as my mother sounded to me. The difference is that she tried to warn me away from the trap of similarity, while I’m inviting them in.

I’ve attempted to heed my mother’s advice not to be like her, determined to escape the black hole of despair she sometimes fell into. Taking to her bed in the middle of the day, my mother tried to fill that void with cigarettes and Agatha Christie novels and Hostess cupcakes. I do not smoke. I do not read mysteries. I never nap. The empty calories I consume come from artisanal breads and flourless chocolate cakes, not the bologna sandwiches and stale baked goods my mother favored.

Still, she pops up within me, having seeped into my pores despite my best efforts. I, too, embarrass my children by chatting up the grocery store clerks in the check-out line or fulminating against those with different political views. Unlike my mother, however, I never hurl ashtrays at the TV screen when politicians I loathe appear. But that’s only because I don’t smoke.

My mother followed her own advice—she did not grow old.  Done in by three packs a day and all those Hostess cupcakes, she barely squeaked past 70. I hope to defy her particular counsel about aging. But I’ve long stopped fighting the fear of becoming her. Now that my mother is gone, I wish I was more like her. For one thing, I realize there’s a whole genre of detective fiction I’ve missed! And how I’d love to hurl invective if not ashtrays right along beside her at various presidential candidates. I’d give anything to tell my mother how glad I am she passed on to me her politics, her humor, her intelligence, her passion for social justice, and her deep, deep love for her children.

My daughters still fear turning into me, just as I once feared turning into my mother. They can’t imagine a worse fate than the dull, safe life I have mapped out for myself and seek to impose on them. They don’t yet know that such a life might be worth emulating.

Since I never co-signed for my daughters’ credit cards, I do not know if they are now paying exorbitant interest and late fees to banks, or how many expensive cocktail bars show up on their statements.

But already they make a mean chocolate cake. I guess there’s hope that they’ve been listening after all.

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What’s the best and worst advice your mother gave you and/or that you’ve given your kids?

 

 

 

Spring in My Step

Calistoga St. Helena Fawn Lily April 2016I’d rather hike than blog, so I’ve been MIA from Shrinkrapped for a bit. But it’s been a fantastic diversion, as decent rainfall in Northern California after four years of drought has left our hills emerald and strewn with wildflowers such that we haven’t seen for awhile. Still, my keyboard fingers are a bit itchy and I’ve been feeling a bit guilty, so here’s a sample of where I’ve been lately to make up for blogging negligence.

While we were in Palm Springs, Joshua Tree, and The Pinnacles,

it was cool and rainy back home. So when we returned, we feasted on the intense green hills in our own backyard during a great hike with friends on the Big Rock Trail in Lucas Valley:

Lucas Valley 3.19.16

 

The day before Easter, we hiked at Point Reyes National Seashore and saw Harlequin flowers and lilies on the Muddy Hollow and Estero trails:

Then on Easter Sunday, we hiked up the Morning Sun Trail into the Marin Headlands above Gerbode Valley, where developers were stopped from putting in housing for 30,000 in the late 1960s. At the same time, our daughter was riding her bicycle across the Golden Gate Bridge–it’s so nice to have her nearby instead of in Barcelona!

Just this past weekend, we drove north to hike above Calistoga–the morning fogOat Hill Mine Road, Calistoga morning fog April 2, 2016 was still in the valley as we started up the trail. The old Oat Hill Mine Road connects Calistoga with Aetna Springs Road in Pope Valley, and was used by mercury miners in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. You can still see ruts carved into the rock by heavy wagons in place along the trail. It was hard enough walking on the rocky trail–I would never survive the jostling of those who came west in wagons (not to mention the jostling the mountain bikers who whizzed past us survive in their modern-day spandex–some people are just gluttons for punishment!).

There are wonderful volcanic Calistoga Palisades April 2016rock formations known as the Palisades along the way, and the minerals in the soil, helped by the rain, put on a wonderful display of lupine,  poppies, mimulus, and other wildflowers. (A man we met on the trail directed us to a cache of rare St. Helena Fawn Lilies, pictured at the top of this post.)

Then it was home again. Not too shabby walking around town each morning either!

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What are your favorite springtime outings?

 

St. Patrick’s Day at the Pinnacles

Pinnacles 6We finished up a week in the desert (Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park) with a bit of green for St. Patrick’s Day: a hike at the Pinnacles before returning home. Gorgeous rolling hills, dramatic rocks, splendid wildflowers: It’s a place we discovered 28 years ago, and have gone back to many times. Here, once again, is an essay about one of my favorite places, with a few new pictures.

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It’s a steep haul up the High Peaks Trail, especially when you’re seven months pregnant with your first child. But back then, giddy with promise, my husband Jonathan and I floated past the massive boulders of Pinnacles National Park.

Cresting the summit, baby bulk and all, I relished the double take of the buff, shirtless teenagers loitering atop the rocks. They paused mid-swagger to glance in horror at my swollen belly as I conquered the mountain in my smocked maternity top.

Our family has returned to the Pinnacles again and again, drawn by the massive cliffs, soaring spires, and lush spring wildflowers. Leaving behind the fragmented kaleidoscope of daily life, we are calmed by the reliable sameness of the timeless, indifferent peaks.

Yet even in this constant landscape, change is under way. The fantastic rock formations are the remains of an ancient volcano ravaged by erosion, creeping steadily up the Salinas Valley along the San Andreas Fault. I am grateful that only subtle clues dispel the illusion of permanence. A precariously balanced boulder has fallen from its perch. Spatters of chartreuse and rust lichen toil as alchemists, turning rock to soil. Their magic allows monkey flowers the color of apricots to bloom from dirt pockets hidden in solid stone.Pinnacles, Monkeyflower

Time has worked its alchemist’s magic on us as well. Two years after our initial trip, we camp at the Pinnacles, weighed down by the accoutrements of toddlerhood — diapers, goldfish crackers, juice boxes, a travel crib. Emma, whose in utero view had been obscured, now enjoys the scenery from the baby backpack that digs into our shoulders as we trudge along the dusty trail.

When we return again, the campground has been paved over for more parking. This time, we have two young daughters in tow, barely out of diapers. But Emma and Ally are definitely into sit-down strikes at the prospect of hiking more than a few hundred yards. Not wishing to fight an uphill battle, we content ourselves with the flat path at the base of the mountains so the girls can splash in the creek. Jonathan, impatient with the meandering pace of childhood, sprints to the summit while the girls and I delight in wild bouquets and rocky forts along the valley floor.Pinnacles, Lupine

The next time the Pinnacles beckon, Emma and Ally gamely traverse the High Peaks Trail. They are enchanted by poppies sprouting out of boulders, the rock that looks like a camel. The girls nibble on miner’s lettuce and strategic bribes of chocolate, scampering around the summit while their tired parents lag behind. Rocks and children tame each other: whininess turns to exultation, forbidding stone becomes an infinite playground.Pinnacles, Clematis

Although the incline invites vertigo, the girls clamber up and down, up and down the footholds chiseled into the rock, swinging from the metal banister as if nature and the Park Service had fashioned monkey bars just for them. Jonathan and I must squeeze through the narrow cliff passage in an awkward crouch. But it is just the right size for Emma and Ally, who march through boldly upright, giggling as their crooked parents bump their heads against the rocky overhang.

We are not the only ones who find the Pinnacles a good place for families. Condors, recently reintroduced to the park, build nests in the sheltered crevices. While they teach their young how to catch thermals, we show ours how to catch the shine of buttercups on their chins in the warm sunlight.

Now our daughters have taken flight too, soaring and wavering in their own grown-up landscapes. Alone again, Jonathan and I make our pilgrimage to drink in the riotous wildflowers and steadfast rocks whenever time allows. As always, we stop in Soledad’s Mexican grocery for tortas — soft white rolls dripping with spicy carnitas.Jonathan in Soledad eating torta, March 2016

Soledad, gateway to the Pinnacles, has sprung up even faster than Emma and Ally. Twenty-eight years ago, it consisted of the grocery, a prison, a few dusty streets of dilapidated houses, and a fleabag hotel with a cracked, empty swimming pool. Now the highway billboard reads: “It’s happening in Soledad.”  Vineyards dot the hillsides, and a tony resort lies adjacent to the Pinnacles. Kids from tidy homes with manicured yards swarm the soccer field at the spanking new school. A vast shopping center dwarfs the original Main Street, but we still head to our old Mexican grocery.

Fueled by succulent tortas and memories, Jonathan and I start up the High Peaks Trail once more. Although stiffer and a little creaky, we ascend quickly past the boulders and apricot blooms of monkey flower.

Again and again, we come back to ourselves in the shelter of the enduring cliffs.Pinnacles 3

 

 

 

Outward Bound/Homeward Bound

eastbound amtrakAt 9:15 on a Sunday morning, we put our daughter Emma on the Amtrak train that will take her from the West Coast to the East Coast.

Then we sail back home on the freeway, strangely clear of the traffic that normally chokes it.

Less than half an hour after hugging Emma goodbye, I am at my yoga class, my routine barely interrupted by her departure.

When I emerge, all stretched out and relaxed, I wonder how Emma’s doing. Has she gotten up yet to stretch her legs? Where is she now? The train has surely hurtled beyond the bay, beyond the suburbs we consider home turf, possibly beyond the great wetlands near Sacramento that attract millions of migrating birds as they touch down between Canada and Mexico.

Our migrating daughter will touch down in Chicago, then New York before continuing, airborne, on the last leg of her journey to St. Petersburg, Russia, for an artist’s residency.

At home I make salad and grilled cheese, using the leftover bread from the Italian restaurant we went to for our last dinner together the night before. It’s delicious. I wonder if Emma has broken into her stash of salami sandwiches. Her food must last for three days. Has she eaten any PB and Js out of boredom, or homesickness?

It’s not as if Emma’s alone in the wilderness, though. There’s a dining car, vending machines and even cafes at the stations where the train stops. Emma has money—not much, but enough—to augment her supplies.

As I eat my lunch, I pick up my book. Has Emma begun the one she selected for her train ride—Wild, Cheryl Strayed’s memoir about losing and finding herself on the Pacific Crest Trail. Strayed really was alone in the wilderness, and ran out of food and money—even her hiking boots! The book’s a good choice for my daughter, who’s about the same age as Strayed was when she made her trek. Emma is not as poorly equipped or facing such daunting challenges in her quest for self, but she, too, seeks something equally elusive and necessary.

At night I go into Emma’s room, relishing the unfamiliar tidiness, mourning the emptiness. As I strip her sheets, I wonder if Emma is settling down for the night—the first of two spent upright in Coach. She might treat herself to a meal in Chicago, but she is too poor for a sleeper berth and young enough still to withstand the price her body will pay for lack of a real bed.

I text Emma, wishing her goodnight as she glides through Nevada and Utah in the darkness. I do not hear back right away, but in the morning Emma’s text alerts us that the snow-covered Sierra was indeed beautiful. No doubt the upcoming Rockies will be too.

I can’t remember when Emma will arrive in Denver; Chicago’s ETA is even fuzzier, Penn Station’s a complete mystery. I am beginning to regret that I discarded the Amtrak brochure with the schedule of all the stops and times—so linear and straightforward, so easy to track.

I am losing track of my daughter. And even if Emma had a smartphone, which she doesn’t, I have not the will nor the desire nor the technological savvy to keep her under constant GPS surveillance. She needs to roam beyond our reach.

We go about our usual lives–dinner, Netflix, laundry, work–as our daughter travels farther away. Soon Emma’s across the mountains, across the prairie, changing trains in Chicago, swept up in the swirl of New York City. We text and talk many times, of course. There are three “Have fun, be safe, goodbye, I love you!” calls alone on her last stateside day. Then Emma boards the plane, lands in Russia. At least Skype and email will keep the connection strong until she returns.

Our forebears, who made this journey in the opposite direction, were not so lucky. The three continents and an ocean they crossed opened many doors, but one closed shut behind them. Home remained as a dream, a memory, a yearning to those who ventured forth—while those left going about their days prayed that their loved ones had enough to eat, a place to sleep, and home carried always in their hearts.