We drove north.
Tired of cursing nature, Linda and I thought we'd experience something it does well, so we started motoring up here through the Alleghenies.
The rhythms of constant movement massage something inside. The road transforms even an ardent nester like myself into an eager nomad, as though the best place in the world to be is 50 miles down the highway.
We passed silent towns left out to rust in the rain, swamps and wood thickets and steep hills covered with ambitious grasses that sprout thick and uncouth in green dampness. Along narrow roads we counted cows and catalogued churches and bars, emblems of two American obsessions - God and alcohol.
Soon enough, mountain preachers commandeered the radio, promising hard rains and stiff judgments.
We wondered out loud whether it was anything we did, or didn't do - whether the Project's hitherto fizzle was a divine gotcha from a displeased deity. We stopped talking about it.
Instead, we concentrated on the paintball signs, the farmers, the prime-rib Americans we saw up and down the roads - high-cholesterol highways, like clogged arteries, larded with restaurants and stores that encourage folks to eat off the fat of the land: meats and cheeses, and bulging, wrapped cakes. They chew on a great deal of things in those mountains, so we joined in, swallowing steaks and not even feeling guilty.
We drove on through map-dot towns, talking about philosophy and chocolate-chip cookies and how Kenneth Starr must have been kicked a lot in the schoolyard. We were unclenching.
Once, on a similar road trip out West, we knew it would be hard to pull anything in on the radio, so I rented a guitar in Boulder and we sang through the Rockies.
When our throats croaked, Linda explained the mountains to me. She was a geophysicist up until a few years back, and she understands stuff like why mountains stand and waterfalls roar. She knows about the collisions and vibrations of particles that are at the base of all things. Linda comprehends the world at its essence - the elegance of physics - and what tears matter apart, what binds things together.
We met at an earthquake outside Santa Cruz, Calif., in 1989. A New York City newspaper I worked for sent me to find the epicenter. She was measuring the shaking for the U.S. Geological Survey near San Francisco. I interviewed her about the San Andreas Fault, thinking too much about her long, dark hair. I went home and knew something had to be done. Please don't ask if the earth moved when we met. We get that a lot.
Eventually, Linda moved East and we married, because something happened between us in the whirling realm of atoms, where you don't see the gravity and the attraction between bodies.
One of the first times we tried for a kid, things started out well. The doctor invited us to spy on the growing fetus in the ultrasound. The technician turned on the screen, and I was staring and smiling, and Linda was staring and smiling, and then the woman said, ``Oh, wait a minute.'' And there was a black hole in the screen where a baby should have been. Linda slouched back onto the examining table. And I looked into the darkness for a good, long time. I'd never seen a hole so empty.
The thing is, Linda isn't one to grab for other people's babies and do the cootchie-coo. She never comes out and tells me, ``I must reproduce.'' But really, she is telling me - every Monday when I give her the first of 28 weekly injections of fertility drugs, and she pretends I'm not hurting her; every time she gets up 90 minutes early to make the blood run at the doctor's office an hour away; every time they hook her up to the five-hour IV drips that are supposed to get the Project back on track - she is telling me.
We may finally adopt a child, but we figure we'll give biology every possible chance. My part in all this is simple. On occasion, I'm directed into cold, fluorescent-flooded rooms during early mornings to produce my contribution. When we meet with the doctor, he talks primarily to Linda, because she now writes a women's health column for MSNBC and has read all the fertility studies, including his.
She found him - the latest of several - on the Internet, practically downloading him like a file. At the end of a consultation, either Linda or the doctor usually explains to me what was just said. The gist is, what he has tried is not working. And ticking time is no friend to a woman's eggs.
So we ran to the Honda for some sanity, and we passed through Canadian customs to stand here on the lip of this yawning gorge.
I'm not sure if it's the scientist or the kid in Linda who's reacting with such rapture. Thirty-four million gallons of white, foaming Niagara River plunge 176 feet down Horseshoe Falls every minute, and my wife stares transfixed and awed. She drags me to the tunnels built under the Falls, and we gawk from behind the wet, white curtain, getting doused in spray. I watch her smile - the widest, most relaxed smile she has managed in a while.
I am trying to figure it all out here in the mist, thinking about earthquakes and waterfalls, and other phenomena. It's amazing what nature can do, and what it can't.
Maybe a kid would only mess up these great road trips. And maybe we're OK alone.
I study the water and watch it flow.