Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Caught Between Two Worlds

If you looked out our back windows, you’d be amazed by the activity just beyond our property line. Our backyard borders a busy divided highway, so for most of the day, traffic whizzes by at 50 mph or faster, a stream of trucks, school buses, SUV’s, box vans and minivans. Everyone’s in a hurry, no matter what the road conditions. Drivers look straight ahead and drive fast. This road is about getting to your destination.

The view from the front of our house is the complete opposite. This is our quiet corner of the world, the world I love. Today, for example, I’m watching the snow fall steadily on the street undisturbed by passing cars. The flakes float down as silently as if they fell in a dream, blanketing the branches of the big maple out front. The sky hangs silvery gray overhead, casting its glow over everything and blurring the lines between earth and heaven. Across the street, a dozen or more ancient trees dot my neighbor’s yard. The sight of those tangled branches etched in black and white forces me to stop and admire them. Only a few cars drive past each day, almost none on a snowy day like today. If it weren’t for the sounds of the traffic out back, you could hear the sound of nature’s snowy slumber.

I often find myself caught between these two worlds. We’ve tried, albeit futilely, to bring some of the soul-stirring quiet into the back. My husband has a big vegetable garden back there. He grew up on a farm and needs that connection to the earth, that simple purpose of bringing life and nourishment from his own patch of soil. I have a few beds of flowers, things I’ve divided off the plants I nurture in the front yard, purple coneflowers and tiger lilies where the sun beats down without respite, green hostas and pink bleeding hearts in the cool, damp shady grottoes beneath the silver maples and box elders. Next year, I plan to add a bed of ornamental grasses. My heart wants to hear them rustle in the breeze, but my brain knows traffic racket will drown out their voices. Until we put up a fence to block some of the traffic noise this past summer, my husband and I had to shout our conversations while picking the zucchini and green beans.

I think this sense of being caught between two worlds is one of the reasons I need to write. Life is like that busy county highway, always noisy, always on the move. By contrast, my heart wants time and quiet to hear the wind whisper through the pampas grass. Writing makes me slow down and process what’s happening around me, makes me notice the way snow falls, see how it frosts the branches, top side white, the bottom slate gray, a clear line with obvious distinction.

I know I’m not the only one. I have a friend who is an avid bicyclist, my former college chemistry professor who, God bless his heart, did his best to make esterification seem fun. I often see him when I’m out walking on summer mornings. One day, as we stood chatting by the side of the road, he told me he loved to bike because that is how fast his brain operates. I thought about that the rest of my walk home. He cycles; I walk. Each of us has our own pace we feel comfortable facing life at. He’s probably forgotten it, but our conversation still wanders through my head, even a year and a half later. I guess that’s the pace my brain works at. I’m a walker in a world that wants to run. Perhaps because of that I’m a writer.

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