One of the reasons for traveling is to see the wonders of the world, both natural and manmade. The Taj Mahal, say, or Egypt’s great pyramids, or the Great Wall of China. So far, my record on this is not outstanding. So far, the only grand and glorious “wonders” I’ve visited are the Grand Canyon and the marvelous huge redwoods at Muir Woods. I’ve been to the Empire State Building, too, which was cool enough but not exactly wondrous. Maybe you have to see it with King Kong.
But smaller wonders are a different matter. Even ordinary travel can be filled with those, if you only think to look. Take our most recent drive to New Mexico and back, for example. Here were just a few little wonders.
Along I-25 south of Colorado Springs, the ditches are edged with stout fences apparently designed to keep deer and antelope from playing on the highway. Yet every few miles there was what seemed to be a stile. Each one was a little artificial hill, with a gap in the fence at its top. From top to bottom on the side facing the highway was a short line of posts and rails, not connected to the fence, the purpose of which was not immediately obvious. It would seem logical that these gaps were intended to guide migrating critters toward underpasses, except there weren’t any underpasses close to them. So what were the stiles for? We wondered.
One morning we sat waiting for our breakfast at a chain restaurant I won’t name, except to mention that it sounds like a new piece of technology from Apple. We saw one of the waitresses coming across the parking lot. She was obviously on her way to work—carrying a takeout cup of coffee from a fast food restaurant. Why didn’t she just get coffee at work? I wondered. Then my own cup of coffee arrived. I took one sip. So much for wondering. It was immediately clear why the waitress brought her own.
We were driving along a highway in southern Colorado—one of those roads with signs warning you “No Services Next 75 Miles” where seeing two other vehicles in a ten-mile stretch feels like heavy traffic. We caught sight in the rear-view mirrors of something coming up on us, much faster than our sedate and legal 65 mph. Not a semi, or a convertible, or even a pickup. It was a train. Usually, in this part of the country, trains are long caterpillars of heavy coal cars—impressive, but not exactly speedy. As this one rushed past us, we saw that its two engines were pulling a meager string of only five Amtrak passenger cars and two baggage cars. No wonder it was moving so fast. We did wonder, though, where the passengers came from and where they were going. And did anyone looking out the windows notice our car, with its South Dakota license plates, and wonder the same thing about us?
An even more interesting wonder along that same highway, though, was the spectacle of the trotting tarantulas. Every half-mile or so we’d see another one, making a beeline (if I may use that term for an arachnid) across the road toward the northwest. Were they fleeing from some predator? Making a seasonal migration? Why did the tarantulas cross the road? I wondered.
So, of course, when I got a chance I looked it up. Apparently in the fall, male tarantulas in search of romance set out on treks in search of like-minded females. They sometimes walk steadily for as much as 50 miles looking for potential mates, who meanwhile are sitting in their comfortable burrows, no doubt munching chocolate and reading romance novels, waiting for Mr. Right.
But why do the males only travel in one direction? Do you suppose they are all headed for the same female? Maybe they’re answering some sort of tarantula personal ad. “Lonely black widow, cute and fuzzy, seeking adventurous, athletic guy for sixteen-legged fun and potential fatherhood. Apply in person. Unsuccessful candidates will be eaten on the spot. Successful candidates will enjoy one blissful encounter and die shortly thereafter.”
It’s possible that the unwitting, lovelorn guy tarantulas find the reward worth all their trouble. I hope so. But I wonder.