During summer days, Doris is the passenger in my shot-gun seat, a fellow spectator as we drive through town, noting everything from glorious gardens to garish paintwork. Invariably, her commentary renders the world with a deft clarity and a glimmer of humor, where ever we are. Where I, the driver, focus on traffic, schedules, and delays, her older eyes see the shifting patterns of shadows and the obvious things I’m missing. When we were caught in stop-and-start traffic a few weeks ago, I complained, “I always forget that there’s work going on on 10th Street.” “There’s a reminder,” she replied, gesturing at the mess in front of us.
Come fall, she goes on with her life, — ah, retirement! — and I go back to teaching. After months of having a friend along for the ride, the long drive back to campus is one I undertake alone. It’s interesting, scenic its Midwestern way. Meaning that there’s a certain grandeur to the fields and forests, and some campy, kitschy stuff that either brings a smile or beggars belief. It’s never been subject to Doris’s artistic evaluation.
A high point of the trip is detouring to Kickapoo State Park. Early fall isn’t my favorite time to stop along these woods, but there are still some lovely details amid the fading greenery.
The middle fork of the Vermillion River was rather dry …
… leaving me staring at signage from its rocky bottom …
I obeyed the signs and moved along. Since I was without a regular camera on the road, I couldn’t capture the kayakers in their yellow boats, with just a few leaves behind them beginning to take on fall tones. I couldn’t join them, either, even though the water was a tempting prospect.
There’s so much that might merit a photograph along the way, particularly when one’s left behind a dear friend. The fields of corn stretch out for miles, their stalks topped with the warm glow of tassels in the setting sun. There’s a scuba school, of all things, amid this sea of corn. There are barns of all sorts, traditional and not, including one with several vertical stripes of color against a white background. There’s this round one, that I stopped to take a picture of one year, and discovered that it’s both difficult to get a good shot from the side of the road and not much fun to pull back out onto the highway from a full stop.
Amid such pastoral scenes, there are miles of pro-gun billboards, heroic couplets spouting a strange rhetoric. “Roses are red,” reads one. “My gun is blue,” says the next. “I am safe,” the sign insists. “How ’bout you?”
And so it goes, this long, strange trip, from my summer world into the school year, where we’ve already done new student orientation and I’m thinking about syllabi and more. Thinking, too, about Doris, and wondering about what she’d have to say about the world unfolding in front of me.