Mainely at Night
April 11, 2012 § 11 Comments
Sleepless in Waterville, Maine at 10:48 p.m., on the back end of an evening presentation at Colby College, I decided a night drive home was in order. I was feeling over-tired and vulnerable in that way that over-tiredness makes me feel, and I wanted nothing more than to be amongst my family, on this little patch of land I know so well. So I rose from the tousled sheets, grabbed my clothes from the rumpled heap where I’d dropped them an hour before, and sped into the night.
Waterville, Maine to Cabot, Vermont is a four-hour drive, so I tuned into WTOS FM, THE MOUNTAIN OF PURE ROCK!!!! and lost myself in hard rock flashback after hard rock flashback: Ozzy, ZZ Top, Metallica, Rush. Our 16-year old “new” Subaru has only one operating speaker, but damned that wasn’t exactly enough, and I let that little four-inch woofer thump for all she was worth. “I been bad, I been good, Dallas, Texas, Hollywood…. I ain’t asking for much…” Sometimes, there is nothing so fine as belting out the lines to a song you didn’t even know you knew.
For a while, coming out of Farmington, I tucked in behind a speeding Chevy pickup, someone who clearly knew the roads and where the cops hid, and I let him run interference on the empty ribbon of highway as we punched through the midnight air. Too fast, maybe, but then again, I’d argue that all motor vehicle travel is too fast. It’s simply a matter of what we’ve become conditioned to.
In Rumford, under the eerie, almost otherworldly plumes of smoke and steam from the paper mill, I lost my traveling companion, so I dialed it back. There was almost no traffic, save the occasional tractor trailer loaded with saw logs. I could see them coming from what seemed like miles away; the high cab lights like the eyes of a demented beast. Then they passed, a roar of diesel and rush of air, and it was hard not to wince at the speed and mass of it all, and how casually we place ourselves in proximity to such dangers. One slip, one drift… it would not end well. It was nearly 1:30 in the morning, but I felt both exhilarated and relaxed. Jethro Tull came on. “Sun streaking cold, an old man wandering lonely, taking time the only way he knows.” Another one I would never have thought I knew. And word-for-freaking-word.
I love coming home. I’d been gone for barely 36 hours, but it felt like too much. I rarely feel the need to leave home; it’s not that I don’t like seeing the world, or am not curious, or do not enjoy myself when I’m on the road; it’s just that I feel embodied by a sense that my life is here, and nowhere else. When I am gone, which does not happen terribly often, and when it does, not for terribly long, I have a hard time ignoring the feeling that my life is somehow on hold.
This is probably ridiculous, and I acknowledge the possibility that I am simply a stick-in-the-mud, having become complacent in the familiar comfort of my surroundings. Twenty-first century American culture does not generally revere a connection to place; we are bombarded with messaging tell us to get out and go, that much happiness is to be found far beyond the boundaries of our homes and communities. For some, I am sure, this is true.
Still, what strikes me is how infrequently we hear of the value inherent to staying home, to exploring and truly knowing our immediate surroundings. There’s all sorts of reasons for this, I suppose, but I suspect that chief among them is the fact that there’s little money in it. After all, it’s pretty damn hard to sell something to someone whose idea of adventure is exploring the wood lot below their house.