Road Diaries of David Jennings

After nearly 10 years abroad, an Oklahoma photographer made a trip home "intent on rediscovering the myths of my childhood." Everything was very foreign and familiar all at once. An Okie accent, the smell of horse manure, tornado sirens, the Plains. Things long dormant began to stir.

essay + photos by David Jennings

I travel because I can’t not travel. I travel because I am alive. I travel because I am hungry. I travel because I want depth. I travel because there are no answers. I travel to know myself. I travel to unknow myself. I travel to bathe in wild rivers. I travel because I am an animal. I travel to starve and suffer in search of truth. I travel because I am full of desires. I travel to liberate myself from desires. I travel because the earth is holy. I travel to find peace. I travel to find war. I travel to recast my world anew.

After nearly 10 years abroad, I returned to my home state intent on rediscovering the myths of my childhood. Though Oklahoma was familiar, after so long away, everything was also very foreign to me. My wife, who had never been to the United States, helped me to see with these new eyes.

An Okie accent, the smell of horse manure, tornado sirens, the Plains—so many things caused areas within me to come alive. Things long dormant began to stir. I felt summoned into corners of Oklahoma that were unknown to me, or obscured by time. For months, I couldn’t see beyond the borders. Nothing outside the state interested me. I needed to see everything, to investigate everything, to understand these parts of myself that were lighting up.

I began drifting into corners of the culture where I had felt comfortable as a boy, a boy who was a member of the FFA and worked on a ranch most of his teenage years. The cowboy way of life drew me back in. The simplicity of it. The earnestness of it. I had a deep nostalgia.

My mind had been raked over with strange and dramatic experiences over the years, and I was no longer the boy I was, but somehow I felt at home in that world; I felt comfortable, even though I was an outsider, just passing through, not sharing the self-evident truths. I simply wanted to know more, to see more, to understand.

I befriended bull riders and followed them around the state. I crashed small town rodeos and went to country dance clubs. I had a real affection for these people and their way of life. I was in awe of the bull riders in particular, though I thought they were crazy for risking their lives to ride these dangerous animals. But I respected their life and decisions.

These men were close to death, and it is only those who are close to death who are truly alive. Every day, Americans drone about their middle-class tasks, accumulating worthless objects, fearful of life and its wildness, its risks. Our candles are constantly burning out—one harsh wind—and we waste our spirits trying to escape the truth.

Life is wild, and God is wild, and it is those who are wild, who throw themselves into life, who are closest to God.

Life is wild, and God is wild, and it is those who are wild, who throw themselves into life, who are closest to God. The bull riders encapsulated this wildness for me. Combined with the culture in which it was embedded, I developed a more nuanced vision of my home state, and I wanted to share that with my photographs.

My Road Diaries Instagram feed is an ongoing account of my wanderings and my projects. I often post once a day, sometimes a few times a day if I am working on a lot at that moment. Sometimes I will get editorial assignments, and post the moments in between. Other times is it simply ideas and themes I am developing. It is the main ongoing outlet for my creativity and wanderlust. @roaddiaries or davidjoshuajennings.com

Traveler's Lovesong

give me the world

and i will create a world within it

full of unreachable stars.

worlding

never ceases.

it is our irritated way.

in love i long to be alone;

alone i long for love.

in India i long for Indonesia.

on trains

my mind

is sick

for seas;

on mountains: everywhere that is not mountains.

it doesn’t end.

it never ends.

i thumb down a passing truck believing

the driver will illuminate me,

believing, in my son-of-a-trucker’s way,

that the driver might somehow turn out a prophet.

i hop on another train hoping

never to arrive,

only to keep rolling,

up and down the madness,

across the ignorant divisions of territory,

around and around

until I forget i or this ever was.

Then, if i make it to the end of the line,

sell the boots off my feet

for another ticket across the Pacific.