I was on a long drive with my daughter in my minivan, which has a problem with the passenger-side seat belt. Not wanting to battle with it – and, yes, putting it firmly and yet again on the short to do list – and needing a nap to help drive safely – I rode in the middle seat behind the passenger seat.
A nap was nice, but, before she reached a rest stop where we could switch positions, there was a long chunk of time where I was awake – and I couldn’t see forward because the headrest completely blocked my forward vision.
This is an uncomfortable position to ride in, because, as the mother of a young adult, you sometimes still remember teaching them to drive, and are more comfortable riding shotgun to keep an eye on the road for them. For them. Uh huh.
She is a great driver, cautious but not ploddy, smooth, careful with MY car when she uses it (she even gets the gas tank filled). So I identified the normal parental anxiety and banished it.
But I still couldn’t see. Until it occurred to me that drivers – and by extension front seat passengers – keep their eyes on the road and the traffic in front of them, and monitor, via glances, mirrors, and peripheral vision, anything else.
I realized that I had an opportunity in front of me: my normal mode of seeing was blocked, and I was being offered the passing panorama of the road, something I rarely pay attention to.
I noticed a hunting blind – or was it a treehouse? I wondered why people would build a house next to the NY Thruway, with a pool in the back yard, and figured out that the house might pre-date the road. I thought about interstate highways and throughways and Parkways and the old question about why you park on a driveway and drive on the Parkway.
I saw stores, houses, side roads – a whole life off to the side of the Thruway, and, because the access points are few and far between, a life with little connection to the cars zooming smoothly past on their long hauls across NY.
Best of all, I saw rivers and waterfalls and creeks and patches where there was still ice on partially-clear ponds, with snow on top of the ice. All in the dun colors of winter, with the snowmelt-wet tree trunks showing black.
We went by a Text Stop with no facilities except a place to park safely.
Filling the writer’s imagination
I collected winter landscape details, trees outlined on ridgetops against the setting sun, cloud patterns fleece-like in the sky.
She told me of trips by bus to NY from school, and how they saw lots of deer. I’m unhappy – the deer didn’t come out for me – but because I was looking for them, I spent time scanning the sides of the road through both (dirty = snow + dust) side windows, and a few long glances at cars and trucks when the road ahead curved.
I never saw my deer, but I gained a good appreciation for looking where the line of sight wasn’t blocked, and taking advantage of what was offered, instead of wishing for what was missing.
And I thought about blocking and sidetracks and glitches in the path to a story goal. I pondered how the road can be defined just as well by its outline as by its asphalt – and so it is with stories, which can be told either with positive space emphasis, or by filling the negative space around a motivation to define it by what it is not: if an artist can do it, so can a word-painter.
I thought about details: fences and ponds and back yards, small country inns and churches and hardware stores, and the railroad that lets commuters live up in the wilder country north of the state line.
I was almost sad when we got to the first rest stop in NJ, the Garden State Parkway, and the beginning of packed ‘civilization,’ and I went up front to drive.