Things worth noticing are around us all the time, even with something as mundane and repetitive as the morning drive to work.

S1E10 The Morning Drive

My drive to work takes place largely on a narrow, two-lane country road with no shoulder. Trees encroach and hang over making it in places like driving through a tunnel. There are many properties with houses set off far from the road, and a great deal of fencing, mostly split rail where you’ve got two posts and three connecting beams in between. Some of these are painted white, some are weathered cedar, some are metal tubing, and some are falling apart.

Not that I see these fences much on the drive into work, because, with the exception of a few points in the year, it takes place almost entirely in the dark. But it is primarily the dark that I like. At both ends of the drive, the origination point of my house and destination of work, requires my mind be switched on. I must be present and participative when getting ready for work and also when I arrive at school. So the drive is like the water between two islands, the silence between the first and second movement of a symphony.

And I’d really like to emphasize just how dark it is, almost like some realm I enter and then emerge from at the other end. There are few lights, and the lights that do exist are often off the road, part of someone’s property set back from the winding lane. This really allows me to settle in and just sort of “be.”  It is quiet, calm, and does not take much attention.

It doesn’t take much attention because it’s so routine, like muscle memory. I’ve been making this same drive for seven and a half years. Every day, coming and going. If I do some quick math based on rough numbers, as I am in education, I can at least reference my contract which calls for 180 days of instruction out of the year. Of course, there are other times I make this drive: to attend professional development, various meetings, summer curriculum planning, and the multiple times I go home and then return to school again later to attend an evening event or athletic competition. So let’s say I make this drive 220 times a year, meaning that over 7.5 years I’ve driven this stretch of road, both coming and going, approximately 3300 times.

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The speed limit is only 40, which suits me fine. Occasionally a car or truck will come up aggressively on the back of my vehicle, lights blinding in reflection, swerving back and forth. I often wonder why someone might be in such a hurry at 6:00 AM. Anyway, most of the time I just find a side street, pull over and let them pass so they can get on to whatever it is they need to get on to. Other times, if there’s no place to pull over, I’ll just redirect my mirrors so their headlights aren’t blinding me and I pretend they are not there. Either way, the calm morning returns, this sort of pre-dawn time, and my mind has the space to roam wherever it might want to.

In a previous episode, I noted Robert South’s famous idea that “novelty is the great parent of pleasure.” For a podcast that attempts to notice the miraculous in the every day, you might think this drive I’ve described provides almost no opportunity for such novelty. It’s repetitive and even poorly illuminated. And what novelty is there in something you’ve done 1650 times, like I have on the morning drive?

But the beauty of such a drive, cast almost entirely in the dark and numbing repetitiveness, is that if I want to notice, I have to really work at it. And I have. One thing I notice is the cycle of the seasons in relation to the precise time of day that I travel. I begin the school year in August leaving the house with a bit of light in the sky, that milky blue that comes thirty minutes or so before sunrise, and then arrive at work with the sky almost fully lit. I know the end of the school year is near when a similar timing occurs. In the depths of winter, my drive begins and ends in complete darkness.

Another is occasions when there’s fog, sometimes very thick or low to the ground, or hovering just above at about 30 feet. This fog completely changes the experience, lights surrounded with halos and the trees emerging in layers of shadow. Especially nice is when there’s heavy fog with the sky just beginning to brighten, making it seem as if the entire world is cast in a dim bluish light.

And I’ve encountered an immeasurable amount of unexpected events. An enormous barn owl taking flight from a fence post. Multiple auto accidents that entirely shut the small road down, heavy rain making the roads impassable, forest fires, and full moons in stunning size and brilliance.

I once saw a large dog get hit by a car in front of me. I pulled over to help carry the carcass to the side of the road and help deliver some tragic early morning news. I once came around a corner to find a couch in the middle of the road, pulled over, and pushed it to the side of the street. And perhaps my favorite, once a rangale of four deer hopped out of the woods and ran alongside me in the opposite lane for about five seconds. It seemed as if I was running with them. And of course, I was thankful that I didn’t hit them.

Often wrongly attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, the nineteenth-century Anglican priest and university professor Charles Kingsley said, “Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful. Beauty is God’s hand-writing—a way-side sacrament; welcome it in every fair face, every fair sky, every fair flower, and thank Him for it.”

I think of this quote often on my drive, the varieties of the landscape I see each morning as the world stirs from its slumber, the fog, rain, animals, moon, wind, and trees—I try to find the beauty in the routine, even in the darkness.

In one of her best-known poems The Summer Day, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver wrote, “I don’t know exactly what a prayer is / I do know how to pay attention.” I’ve always thought the two lines more a question for us readers to answer—isn’t paying attention a type of prayer? Not that there is some mystery that underlies everything necessarily, but that there is mystery and wonder around us all the time, on the surface of things, or rather that they are the things. There is nothing we have to look under or beyond; it’s right there in front of us; we just have to notice.

In this episode, as well as the previous nine, I have attempted to acknowledge the miraculous in the common, the beauty in the everyday. Our tagline is a podcast where we attempt to notice easily overlooked aspects of human experience. I hope the ideas we’ve explored have helped you reflect on your own experience, and maybe notice that occasional way-side sacrament.

This episode marks the end of Season One of Curiosity Manifold. I’ve had a wonderful time writing and producing it, but now it’s time for a short break. I’d like to thank the editor for this podcast, Jeffrey Howard, whose critical eye and invaluable advice have helped shape the lumps of clay that are these episodes into something that both of us can be proud of as part of the Erraticus family.

Thanks for listening and see you soon.

Curiosity Manifold

A podcast where we attempt to notice easily overlooked aspects of human experience.

One thought on “S1E10 The Morning Drive

  • Noticing, noticing, noticing…working from home these pandemic years, and the luxury of not having to attend to anything else in the mornings but getting my coffee and settling in to notice the quality of light as it changes each day, much as you have from your vehicle. A simple and sacred ritual, indeed.


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