The hawk hovered above some tall grass, its talons pointed at something on the field below. It all seemed impossible. How anything could just stop midair like that. I never saw the bird go in for the kill. That moment, the hovering, was like a movie still. A mind snapshot captured on an Interstate highway as I drove across Ohio in late April 2012.
Some people sniff at the idea of driving major highways on a road trip. They seem to believe that all of life’s secrets are revealed on the back roads, that there is no life on the Interstate. While I love a dirt road or a curving county highway that splits off into three other curving county highways, I find just as much life on the wide paved roads that cut across or down the U.S. The moments are quick, but they’re there. Even on the days when orange cones funnel three lanes into one and a single flagman brandishing a stop sign brings the flow of carstrucksmotorcycleshorsetrailersbuses to a halt. On these long roads, the road atlas goes large. The flat of one state connects to the rolling hills of another. The Interstates tie everything together.
Before I started living two months here or three weeks there or sure I’ll come visit you 1300 miles away next week, I thought the Interstates useful. But little more. Point A to point B. Get there fast or, when in NJ and driving down the shore on a holiday weekend, at a crawl.
Now, I can spend hours driving down one straightaway without tiring of it. Even when a stretch of road threatens to make me antsy and I start cycling through music playlists to liven things up, the road always serves up a reminder that there’s more here than tar. With the sun behind him, a Mennonite man, his hat, and horse cart are thrown into silhouette as he drives across his field. A flock of starlings (or, at least, that’s what I imagine them to be) takes flight swooping just ahead of me, no straightaways for them. Or a field of sunflowers bursts yellow against green grass and a storm-cloud sky.
At times, the thought of so many people all going down one road but toward so many different lives threatens to overwhelm. Cars pulling trailers loaded with the family’s belongings, including toys that will, soon enough, be scattered around a new front yard. Trucks delivering goods from over here to way over there. Vans and RVs that, clearly, are the roving homes of other constant roadtrippers. Montana tomorrow. Perhaps Florida the week after? At night, I love the trucks with safety lights that outline their exteriors. The reds and oranges the brightest spots against a black sky. And the triple trailer FedEx trucks carting, I hope, at least a few gifts from one family member to another.
But, most often, it is a bird. A single bird that brings me joy. As I drive, a bird sailing on wind currents over the highway reminds that, luckily, we can only tame the world so much.
And, of course, every exit and rest stop offers the chance to be still in a place. I stop often. I look. And I’m always rewarded.