God of the Nighttime Highway

indiana flatness

Not all of the Midwest is as flat as its reputed to be. Most of it rolls like an ocean. You ride to the top of one hill only to see a thousand others, trailing off into the distance.

However, in a few places, such as northwestern Indiana, the sea is calmed, and you are struck with the stunning horizontality of the place. There is nothing vertical that is not man-made: only the power poles that parallel the road through Remington.

You can stand in a field, and the top half of your world is blue sky and the bottom 40 percent is green farmland. Only a thin ribbon, perhaps 10 percent of the whole, rides around the horizon and holds within it almost everything you can see or name that is not grass or sky.

All the roads, for instance, sit visually just along that rim line, like cording. You can see the trucks running along the horizon and the cars on the interstate.

Houses ring the line, and the tractors pulling across the farm fields sit up high on that horizon, with wheels in the green and exhaust pipe in the blue.

It is not a ”big sky,” like they claim for Montana. The sky is too featureless and bland to seem big. It is pervasive, heavy, low, expansive but not big.

Perhaps it is the humidity in the middle of summer that makes the thick air seem like the bottom edge of the sky, pulling down your sense of it to human size.

But the land, that flatness that edges out away from you on all sides, does seem big. And it seems even bigger at night.

The planet has seemed to shrink dramatically over the course of the century. You can fly from New York to Paris in four hours. Listen to Russian TV news. Take the train at 200 mph in Japan.

But if you want to shake the world out and make it larger again, get up at 3 in the morning and drive across the flatness of Indiana and Illinois. It is dark, and the stars are thick as the July humidity. And the world seems quiet, empty and stretched once more to full size.

The sky grows upward as the stars populate it, light years away. Not only is the Earth big but you can see you are a pebble at the bottom of a very deep universe.

You drive alone for miles and the only thing you see is distant headlights, like fireflies, flitting along the horizon line that shows up as the boundary between two different shades of black.

One set of headlights gets closer. You recognize a kindred spirit, someone else is driving in the lonely, vacant night. You wait a very long time for the lights to draw close. They are still miles away.

As the car gets nearer and dims its headlights — that salute of recognition in the dark — you see it is the God of the Nighttime Highway, whose eyes are headlights and whose halogen gaze keeps the world from disappearing when everyone else is asleep.

And he passes and you drop once more into the large darkness.

god of nitetime hiway

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