I was traveling eight hours on the I-81 highway out of West Virginia, and there was so much to not see. I was dismissive of the lands and numb to them; everything looked the same. I was in here, and all that was out there. My soda can was more interesting than the Opequon farms, and it was an empty can, at that. The landscape was a mass of repetition in those hundreds of miles, and that was true until I realized it couldn’t be true, at all.
The wastes of locations off the interstate are rarely one’s destination. A full half of these sights are the medians between north and south traffic, and east and west lanes. The medians are state property but don’t seem to belong to anybody. They are maintained yet essentially unclaimed. Thousands of people pass a given point in a matter of minutes and unless there’s a rest stop, it’s all blank to them. We can say, those sections of real estate are as regenerative as golf scenery in a 1990’s video game. Median grounds, no matter how natural and beautiful they happen to be, are stand-ins between the two real stars in our life: Who we hugged where we left, and who we’ll greet where we’re headed.
Until it all becomes untrue, to the traveler.
Here’s what it’s like. I’m a passenger in a speeding car and I’m being called. I’m being spoken to, by what I see I’m travelling past. I’m not responding and feel gluttonous in the enormity of what I’m ignoring. With the calling, I can’t help but think I’m letting the roadside down. The trees, the cows, the clearings, the barns, each of these entities scroll past for their respective first times yet they accumulate on my grid of stubborn resistance.
Whether picturesque and thrilling or simply present and passing, they are units of area. When I give no regard to these groupings, I’m placing a lock on a door that had been left open for me. My locking their door does not hold them in or shut them out– that function is impossible. And it’s not going to keep other people from entering that group’s world. All I’m locking out is myself. If I keep it up– if I pretend the calling is not for me, I’m never going to discover anything new. Because what is new must always come from outside me.
That includes ideas, for ideas are gifts.
Those highway scatterway places, with their trees and fields would feel frustrated with me if they could feel, because my lack of response has shuttered an entrance I might have otherwise crossed. I don’t mean I could have crossed their entryway by stopping my car and exploring their pastures on foot. No, I’m talking about something deeper, grander, like being on their lands by simply giving myself permission– allowing my mind– to get into their particular world.
That allowance is a big step, believe me.
A man allowing himself something, anything, is him telling the world: I was here, and now I am moving. And the world glances his way, perhaps for the first time ever and says, “Oh, look, he is alive after all.” And now the world will take note. And possibly, take action– depending on what the man does. He’s on the map now.
Resist their open door? No longer. I was here– driving many hours– and only now I’m beginning to move!
Oh, I have to get close to it, to see what makes it what it is! I have to make a movement to stop myself from not venturing to these patient places. Because they had to have been patient, to have found me.
I had taken this drive to see family over Thanksgiving, and now I was returning home. What’s going on out there?
Each bit of passing land is a mini-scene, and I take a second or two to digest it. I have just a moment to see it, to grasp and take it in, because the next scene’s coming right after. One second, and two, and gone. And next and next.
I get it, and it’s moved on. I get the next scene, and it too is gone. And again, fifty, one-hundred, countless times I accept what’s set before my eager eyes and immediately cede it being replaced with another scene.
Each tree establishes a place, delightful in its context. Freeze it in my eyes, and in that one-second’s time I think: Boy I would really love to be there. I long to plop down and linger, yes right near that enclave, not fifteen yards off the hard lanes of pavement. Under this tree, I can read Anne Morrow Lindbergh in true peace. Her words from 1935 come directly to me, there’s no age in her prose, no translation matrix to interfere.
I can do so much more than be alone. I’m driving away from my loved ones, my Thanksgiving hosts, but why not imagine them with me? Here, and here?
Everyone I’ve said goodbye to, not just this holiday but any loved one from any day– why not picture us together? I remember someone, a very special someone who loved the sound of rain on a roof. Something about it, she never articulated just what, brought her immense peace. Maybe it was the fact that she was dry and in complete safety, during the downpour. My car ride is through a storm and I can see a cottage off the road where we’d be protected. And just like that, she’s there with me.
She turns to me and presses something into my hand. It’s a folded piece of paper with lines and lines of neat handwriting. She says, “Ten years from now, when you think of us, I want you to remember how happy you are right now.” And I do.
It’s sunny again. I see a cluster of vines and I imagine my mother and brothers and sisters are there. It’s the third week of June, and mom says this is the best week to pick grape leaves, because they are at their most tender. Not to worry about gathering too many; she knows how to preserve them for an entire year. And the family is assured of several meals of delicious sarma, my favorite delicacy of them all.
How is this done within a mere second or two? Well, as each physical location passes, I begin to form ideas. Specific people come to mind and a story develops, waiting for the right sight to come into view. And then like a stamp, I apply the scenario as it fits.
I can be with you here, mom. And there, and there. You would find something to enjoy at each place I set my eyes upon. That’s the kind of contentment you carried with yourself and brought to others. Maybe you could tell us kids another story from the early days with dad, and we can marvel at how sharp your 1953 recollections are. You mean to say you two took your honeymoon in Washington DC and hadn’t made hotel arrangements? General MacArthur was in town and all the rooms were booked? Where did you stay that night? And you tell us. To our delight.
“That sounds exhausting!’ People will say.
I say, try it. Try going somewhere wild when someone drives you home. Dare to see where you look. You may find that you can play, explore, read, daydream, and converse, in long-discounted places that just happen to be real. You can imagine even more on top of that, if you include those you love. And then some kind of magic happens, as you answer a certain call.