The Maitreya project has been touring the globe, a collection of more than 1,000 Buddhist relics, many of them pearl-like objects found among ashes of cremated Buddhist masters, believed to be relics of the masters themselves.
The exhibit began touring way back in March 2001. It crossed the United States this year. Santa Fe was the last stop in this country before re-opening in Guadalajara, Mexico, in January.
|Buddhist nuns with shaven heads chant at the opening|
of the Maitreya exhibit December 16th in Santa Fe, NM.
The exhibit in Santa Fe is held at a Catholic church where a large stain glass image of Jesus behind the altar set up to hold the relics around a statue of Buddha adds an ecumenical note to a serious yet joyful ceremony.
The Maitreya project will culminate in building a 500-foot tall stature of the Buddha in Kushnigar, India, where the relics will be housed.
The next morning it is not so cold. We grab a bagel and head southeast to re-join I-40 and then west to Santa Rosa. The bus purrs through hills flecked and dusted with snow. The sky is gray with occasional teasing patches of blue. Traffic is light.
In Santa Rosa we eat lunch at a downtown dinner. Santa Rosa is the town that time forgot, or rather that I-40 forgot when it by-passed it. Through the 1930, '40s and much of the '50s Santa Rosa lay in the sweet spot where legendary six-lane Route 66 cut through New Mexico, the big east-west highway to the southwest. Now former stores, restaurants and motels stand empty. Santa Rosa is proper. The action such as it is has moved north, near the on-off I-40 ramps.
After a lunch of chicken fried steak we push on. The next 100 or so miles from Santa Rosa to Texas are flat. The sky is gray. The land all but deserted.
It's nightfall in Texas. Suddenly there are flashing blue lights in the rear view mirror. We get a warning ticket for a failed license plate light. The trooper is anything but polite, leaving us in a grim and angry mood.
We push on the Elk City, Oklahoma, and glad to be out of Texas. In Elk city we crash for the night but not before asking where to eat. We are directed to an all-you-can eat restaurant across the highway, where people apparently do just that—eat all they can. The avoir-du-pois of the clientele is mind-boggling. So too the next morning at Denny's. We wonder if this is what the middle of country is about—eating? Or this a legacy of I-40 truck stop cuisine?
|Cotton clouds in a blue sky at dawn.|
At gas stations and pit stops the people are cheerful. This is a land of big confidence and large SUVs, big sedans and humongous Ford pickups, Toyota Tundras.
We are a small bus among overloaded 18-wheelers, scary RV's and Harleys that pass us with buzzing insect sounding fury
In a few hours western Oklahoma gives way to the eastern part of the state, no longer flat but rolling hills and meandering rivers. Pastures are grassy and dotted by occasional stands of hardwoods—mostly oaks— not seen since we left New Mexico.
|Low rain clouds brood ...|
By the time we reach Arkansas we are back in the east. Trees are the norm now, and there are small towns every 10 miles instead of every 50 or 100.
The towns are welcoming but the motels, the eateries, the gas stations, the rest stops, the off-and-on ramps are identical. I-40 paints its way east with a dreary sameness of brush, smearing identical structures onto different canvases using limited imagination and no variation of palette. America the beautiful has become America the almost identical, with green and white highway signs, red, white and blue interstate markers, big and little box stores in flat beige shopping malls illuminated by halogen lights and patrolled by security cars with flashing yellow lights.
They day fades to dusk and to dark. We stop at a motel outside Nashville. The bus seems as happy as we are to quite the highway after three days of travel. This motel like all the others has no charm. I'm beginning to miss the outdoor trees and grass and lukewarm showers of even the shabbiest park or campsite. But it is too cold and we are too much in a hurry
|Motels begin to look the same.|
Finally the road takes on some character. It bobs and weaves and climbs and falls as it snakes its way through the Smokies and the Blue Ridge mountains, following cascading rivers to the Piedmont.These aren't the mountains of the southwest, the Sangre de Cristos east of Santa Fe dancing with aspens and tall pines. These are the old folks of the east home to even older forests.
By the time we are into North Carolina four days of driving has taken its toll. It's is a straight shot through Hickory, Statesville, Winson-Salem and Greensboro where we hang a left toward Reidsville and home— a journey of 2,000 miles average 19.7 mpg at 56 miles per hour in a bus filled to the windows.
At 10:13 we are home, five days before Christmas. There will be many more bus adventures in store come spring.
Now it is time to unpack and regroup. There is the tree to get ready, and gratitude for another year.