Out My Windshield
Listening to a podcast tonight, the voice coming from my smart phone suggested making a list of the activities that bring each of us the most joy and without a second thought I knew my answer: I love to drive. Besides being in my car, which I love, and going places, which I also love, I adore looking out the window and seeing what’s around me. I take pictures of cloud formations – and not the ones that look like whales and puppies and faces – but the ones with a wispy, dramatic ability to stretch from one horizon to the opposite horizon and catch my eye and my breath. But clouds aren’t the only things I notice. I observe a swath of lavender flowers, or even a single yellow bloom. I get a kick out of objects that appear out of place, and I enjoy the shapes of unusual trees. I notice the old barns close to falling over curious how long they have stood and birds bedding down near a pond just off the roadside. I take a few moments to consider the history and future of each. I drive on and I wonder.
A couple weeks ago I saw a coyote darting towards a prairie dog town. He might have gotten into mischief if I didn’t pull over to observe him for a few minutes – he steered clear of me while I stood outside my vehicle in the wind watching him make his choices. Once I saw a wild hog nudging his way through the ground near a vacant lot between two homes, hunting for lunch. While searching for a setting for a fictional story on a lengthy stretch of empty road, I encountered the Idiot Tree (see The Idiot Tree from December 2011). I felt farther away from the world than I’d ever been, and even here I stumbled upon a small tree completely covered with colored baseball caps telling me others had preceded me. I couldn’t imagine why in the middle of nowhere this would exist, yet here it is, so I stop to look at it closely, much like the coyote. Oddly, it wasn’t even the last time I would see this oddity out my windshield. Glad I was watching for such peculiarities.
Fish? Turtle? Snake?
Yes, I love amazing nature scenes, and a wide open sky full of cirrostratus clouds, and wildlife darting across the road, but not everything that inspires me stems from the planet’s bounty around me. Like the Idiot Tree, sometimes the images I glimpse stems from humor, or horror, or the haphazardness of life. Case and point: Florida Highway 50 crisscrosses the state, and it’s likely I’ve driven all of it, especially and repeatedly, the chunks through the congested parts of Florida. But don’t think that there aren’t curious features to be witnessed, both here and on Silver Star (a parallel route along its middle span), the two of which made up my commute for six months as I straddled between the life I was leaving and the life I would soon enter. During that spell, I watched men spend their Friday nights serving up smoked delights on the corner in Pine Hills. I drove past the mangled tree where a car accident the previous day left a fellow commuter dead. I watched children hold their parents’ hand waiting for the city bus. One morning I counted down the seconds until the car in front of me, ignoring the red light, violently struck multiple other vehicles. I still think of each of them. Even despite the chaos and cacophony of a city street, so often when I sit waiting for my turn through an intersection, I witness and see people on the curb, or cutting between waiting cars who do not know they are seen and remembered.
Today I drive eastward on the road that bisects the southernmost panhandle of the U.S. A man who likely did not have the financial wherewithal to own a car, instead rides a bicycle on the edge of the road – one with no sidewalk and nearly no shoulder – observed out my passenger window. He peddles along, with one hand on the right handlebar and the other clutching his possession. It’s possibly new, or at least new to him. He steers with one hand, heading home, I suspect but don’t know for certain. At some point I pass him, almost wishing I held my camera at the ready. The object that prevents him from securing his grasp on his mode of transportation, grasping it as securely as his one arm is able, is a glass aquarium containing a few indiscernible objects. Is he adopting a fish? A turtle? A snake? Has he recently given up one of the above and is handing off the glass box to someone else? Is it his, or is it stolen? Is he selling it for drug money, or does he hope to have a creature in his life for whom he will care? Like the clouds that drift away in the sky, so goes this snapshot of a man, and a bicycle, and a fish tank headed east. I drive on and I wonder.