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The Scenic Route

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The Scenic Route

Driving Home

Driving home. A gloomy, leaden day of no-nonsense April rain has scrubbed the air clean, and now it seems all the extra water has fallen out of the air, for the sky is clearing. Unexpected it is, and the sun looks just as surprised as we are to see it; wide-eyed and bright orange-yellow, hanging above the freshly-whitened ridges of our western range and lighting everything east of itself in high relief and full-on technicolor.

Having lived here for so long, I can’t imagine how a newcomer would react to this little late April show, for even I, who have seen this act a time or two, am somewhat stunned. An Inland Empire neophyte might be immobilized by this freshet of sunlight on newly green grass, ninebark, ocean spray, willow, dogwood, snowberry, cottonwood, aspen and only a member of the Native Plant Society knows what else. Someone who moved here last fall might find themselves unable to keep an eye on the road in the late-day maelstrom of rising shrouds of clingy cottony mountain mist, freshly bloomed service berries and road-side cherries and faceted sheets of blue and green water.

An eagle in a red-tinged, bug-killed Douglas fir shows iridescent against a crystalline cyan sky, perched on a wooden silhouette above layered umber and amber waves of stone. A “V” of Canada geese flies into the sun, drawn in black and white and gray, yet warmly tinged with some magic wash that is at once sublimely lovely and indecipherable.

This is all so precisely and perfectly illuminated that an observer might suspect some cosmic Animator has created this evening simply for the joy of the audience, and perhaps that’s true. In fact, I hope it is. Perhaps God so loves the world that She crafts moments like this one — this 30-mile-long moment in the midst of my same-old, been-there-done-that, automatic-pilot drive home — so we can be awed and immersed in something so beautiful that it doesn’t matter if we understand it, only that we experience it.

A question: how often are we graced with these gifts and don’t see them? Speaking for myself, I would guess daily. How often do I walk along with my head down, so intent on not losing my way that I lose my day?

Spectacularity (which my word processor tells me ain’t a word) is not a prerequisite to extraordinary beauty. Even though that’s what gets our attention. But, if we pay attention, watch and listen and wait, these graceful moments come much closer together that we might suspect, even though some of these moments are not long.

I walk out into my shop this morning on my way to work, and sitting on the crushed rock floor of the bay I park in is a tiny, brown bird, which flies off as I crunch onto the gravel. Mighty small and not extraordinarily decorated like a hummingbird or wild canary, it is still a lovely little critter which flies in a happy spiral out of the shop and across the drive into the woods, swooping and stuttering on the air like a windblown leaf, but under its own power and impetus. It makes no cry of alarm, but flees silently. A few moments later, though, I hear a song from that sector which says, “Safe, I shall sing.”

Yesterday morning, as I sit at my desk, a grouse hen comes high-stepping by my window through last year’s greenish-purple dewberry vines—destined to bloom and bear luscious black berries in three months — sampling new leaves and grasses just pushed out by the rush of spring heat and melted winter. She moves deliberately, if somewhat clumsily, sometimes supported by the vines several inches off the ground. She is a study in brown with accents in black and white. In the woods west of the house, a few hundred yards away, a grouse cock drums a love song, as he and his ancestors have for each year I have lived here. She continues on her way, as if to say, “In due time, but not before.”

These moments fall from the pen of the cosmic Animator, too, I suppose — meaning, “I wish to believe” — for if God loves the world as much as all that, there may be hope for us after all.

There is something very sane about accepting these gifts, and something crazy about ignoring them. If we are going to know this love—and it might be God’s or our own passion for beauty or both merged in the rind of us that is our senses and the core of us that is our soul—it is important for us to acknowledge it, and to take time to be awed, even when others think us odd.

It’s either that, or miss the whole, glorious show.

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Author info

Sandy Compton Sandy Compton Sandy Compton is one of the original contributors to The River Journal, and owner and publisher at Blue Creek Press (www.bluecreekpress.com). His latest book is Side Trips From Cowboy: Addiction, Recovery and the Western American Myth

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editorial, driving, nature

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