Last night I took a drive home. A long, isolated drive through a desolate winter world.
Upon embarking for the drive home I kissed my sister on the cheek and gave her family one last hearty goodbye, turning to make my way down their driveway to my car. It was late evening, and the first flurries of a nasty winter storm were just starting to fall. I had no desire to be caught up in it too far from home.
I turned the key in the ignition and the old beauty coughed herself awake with the vigor of an aged, faithful dog greeting it’s owner at the door after a day of absence.
I eased the car back down the driveway, mounds of shoveled snow towering over my car on either side. The winter had been harsh – record low temperatures and record high snowfalls. With another foot forecast tonight dallying on the drive would be ill-advised. Already the tree line along the road was obscured with white swirls. Snow snakes slithered and swam along the grey road ahead of me. The riverside parkway drive was almost devoid of other drivers. It was a holiday, there wouldn’t be too many people out on the road with the Nor’easter bearing down over the city.
I drove carefully, watching the deserted streets while taking chance peeks at the void of whiteness to my left stretching out over the river. The sun swam hazily somewhere above the fog of blowing snow casting a warm, lazy glow across what I could make out of the frozen waters. There was something hypnotic about the emptiness of it. The abstract sight of that white nothingness pulled on me – I couldn’t keep my eyes away from it. The snow fell harder now – thin, fast flakes in a furious flurry chaotically darting through my high beams. My distraction was becoming dangerous.
I spied a small driveway off the road and pulled over into it. A river lookout nestled between skeletal trees. As the snow fell stronger I sat for a while and admired the stark vista.
As I watched their was a brief moment where the snow suddenly lifted, and I was struck with awe at the colours sent out through the flurries. The setting sun hung idly above the horizon, an indistinct glowing orb sending out fans of fiery flavor across the vacant waste. The clouds above mirrored the windswept snow dunes across the frozen lake – sharp, jagged angles, illuminated contours whistling of a cold harshness.
The storm closed in again and barred down on me. I knew I should leave, avoid the potential of getting stuck there or sliding into a ditch, but something kept me rooted to the sight of those frozen crags out over the river. I sat and contemplated the construct of winter around me. The dead trees reaching desperately towards an apathetic sun. The bone-like structure of the landscape – the absolutely lonely desolation of it, entranced me. I felt like something was waiting beneath it all, like the whole story wasn’t showing.
I reveled in confined comfort within that car for a long time, watching as the storm abated and night time fell, feeling a part of something larger I didn’t understand.
When I finally put the car in gear and slowly eased back onto the snow coated road darkness had taken over and I had to drive slow and careful to make it back to the city. After an hour the city buildings loomed ahead and I felt at peace with myself and the world.
There is a privacy about it which no other season gives you. In spring, summer and fall people sort of have an open season on each other; only in the winter, in the country, can you have longer, quiet stretches when you can savor belonging to yourself. Spring, summer, and fall fill us with hope; winter alone reminds us of the human condition.
~ Ruth Stout