“What is the feeling when you're driving away from people, and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it's the too huge world vaulting us, and it's good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.” ~ Jack Kerouac, On the Road
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Enchanted places… Do we find them? Or do they find us? Does serendipity act while we are most oblivious?
My husband likes to ride his bike on the country roads around our home. And he comes back with his eyes filled with the rolling hills, the thick wild oak trees, the open sky. And when I see his eyes, and when I hear him talk, I sometimes fear for him. Because the mind always asks. And the heart always doubts. And the spirit… well, it does fear. So, every time he gets ready to take to the road, I curl a little into myself. And as he’s leaving I go through the checklist: phone, sports drink, helmet, money, I.D., and When you get to the intersection, will you turn left or right?
And so, one Sunday morning, quite some time ago, shortly after we moved here, my husband took his road bike and went out cycling. I’m going down to the intersection and turning right, he said. And that was that. Except, about an hour and a half after he left he called:
I had a flat. Can you come get me?
Where are you?
About 20 miles from the intersection, going north.
Yes, just make that right and stay on the main road, and when the road forks, turn right again.
Okay. I’ll be there as soon as I can.
I’m in a pebbled area on the side of the road. You can’t miss me.
I’ll be right there.
And I grabbed my car keys and flew.
Down to the next county. Down to the intersection. Sharp right. There, I saw signs for the river I had always known to exist but had never seen. And further down, to my left… the river. To my right… open country. In between… the occasional cactus. The occasional house surrounded by ground and sky. Complete and utter barrenness. Complete and utter…
Beauty. Sublimity. Surrounding me.
I was alone. With water. With trees. With dirt. With sky. With nothing. With no one.
And the place… took me.
I wanted to stay. To see. To explore. But my husband was waiting for me several miles away. In a pebbled area. Out in the middle of another nowhere. Or the rest of this one. With a flat tire and a conspicuously red jersey and some really tired legs. So I kept driving.
And this very same situation repeated itself at least five or six times. And every time I drove by that place on my way to save my husband from another flat tire situation, I told myself I had to come back. To this road. To this place. Hidden… but wanting to be found.
And so today, because it is the last day of my spring break, and because it is the first day of spring (and on the first day of spring I like to be with life), I drove down that deserted country road. Over the hills and through the wild oak trees. On my way to nowhere. Because I wanted to stay… and see. And when I saw cows lazing under the burning sun, under the open sky, by the river… by the nothingness… the unbeingness of it all, I parked my car on the side of the road and got out. I wanted… I don’t know what I wanted. But I found myself watching the cows. And they watched me back with interest… and curiosity. As if they wanted to tell me something. And we just kind of watched each other for a while. And I felt the smallness of me. And it felt so good to be small in this vastness. It felt… humbling. And I heard in the background the silence that trickled from between the crisp and subtle laughter of the river. And I heard inside that silence the voice inside my head. That other voice that sometimes speaks, though uninvited.
There, in that enchanted place, the other voice told me things. About him. About her. About me. About you. About us. About love. About life. Things I never thought to think. Things that are told only in dreams.
The voice spoke. And I replied.
And Beethoven accompanied us from my car stereo.
But, after a while, I realized I couldn’t stay forever because… forever peels the magic away. So I waved goodbye. But I promised to be back.
And one day, when I leave here, the one thing I will take with me is that enchanted place down by the river. That road. CR 761 or CR 438 or whatever CR number it is… one county over. The road with a name unknown to me. The place that has taken me. The road. The place. Narrow and winding and uneven and going nowhere. Or somewhere. Does it matter?
Sometimes we have to stop trying to get to certain places and allow our spirits to find the places that truly enchant them. Or allow those places to find us.
I’ve got that country road tattooed beneath my skin and humming between my arms. I’ve got it droning inside the empty spaces between my ribs. I’ve got it in my hair and in my eyes and under my tongue. And that country road has my breath splattered all over it. It has one stray hair that detached itself from my head embedded in its cracks. Dead hair. Loose threads. Empty bottles. Rusty cars. Abandoned houses. Things once precious and dear and gleaming with life… now lost and forgotten… and alone. And things still alive: blue sky and wild oak and dry cactus and golden dandelion and flowing water. Flowing. Like the blood inside my veins.
We are places. And they are us. We are their vastness. And they are our smallness.
My gasps of bliss are ever emblazoned upon the air that rises above that place and tents it like a silent but turbulent and ravenous storm.