The world through my windshield
I drove back to Farmville on a recent sultry day. Gratitude for my car’s air conditioning kept me in good spirits as I watched the summer sun play peek-a-boo with an impressive assortment of towering cumulus clouds. Then I saw the darkness of an approaching thunderstorm push its way into the southwestern sky.
Normally, I enjoy thunderstorms. When I hear distant rumbling, I stop what I’m doing and head to my porch to watch. I like seeing the world’s colors change as sunlight filters through approaching cloud bands. I sense a thrill when the leading edge of wind walks across the treetops. I feel energized as far-off rumbles intensify, turning into booms and crashes. I have fun estimating the storm’s distance by counting the seconds between lightning flashes and the thunder — the formula is one mile per five seconds; for example, if you count 10 seconds, the lightning flashed two miles away. Sometimes as a storm passes, the sun comes back out while it’s still raining. The reward can be a spectacular rainbow.
On the day in question, however, my porch sat empty. The approaching storm found me behind my windshield. From that vantage point, the dark sheets of distant rain seemed an ominous threat. I clutched the steering wheel tighter and hoped I’d beat the storm home.
I didn’t. I drove right into the downpour. My windshield wipers fought in vain. Even at their top speed, they lost ground to the sheeting water. The wind didn’t stay in the treetops. It pushed my car around and flung branches down to create an obstacle course. Ditches filled and puddles turned into raging waterways that threatened to push me off the pavement. I was thankful that no other cars were behind me to object to the slowness of my pace through the storm.
By the time I got home to where I could have enjoyed the show in safety, the squall had passed. I pulled into my driveway, pried my fingers off the steering wheel and reflected on the fact that driving through a few more storms like that could change my entire relationship with thunderstorms. Instead of delighting in them, I could develop an aversion to them.
In the lingering flash of retreating lightning, I realized that many other weather events had already suffered the same fate.
First it was the fog. I can recall a time when fog rolled in like a tender mystery. It softened hard edges in the landscape and turned familiar things into secrets awaiting discovery. It muted some sounds and carried others. Under fog’s transforming breath, the world turned into a dreamlike fantasyland. On Long Island, in New York — where I learned to drive — the fog could be so thick the ornament on a car’s own hood would disappear into the mist. A few blind drives to work taught me to dread the fog.
Snow was next. I used to love the snow. Close your eyes and imagine a Christmas card filled with a wintry landscape. Listen to the vision. Your mind can probably hear children laughing. I was one of them. I built snowmen, made snow angels and trekked to the best hill dragging my sled behind me. When my family moved to Florida, I bought cans of artificial snow and sprayed the oleander and palmetto in our yard. Later in life, I lived in Michigan. It took only one sideways slide down an interstate’s exit ramp to change my mind about the snow.
I wonder what’s next. Will it be sunset? Sure, the sky can fill with spectacular colors, but rounding a westward facing curve on High Street at just the wrong time of day puts a person in a perilous spot where the sun’s overwhelming brightness casts all else into invisibility. Dawn presents the same treachery, just in reverse. Darkness isn’t the answer. I adore being out with the stars, but I know some people who hate the night because of challenges related to driving in the dark. Am I destined to join their number?
Maybe it’s time for me to get out of my car and back into the world.
Karen Bellenir has been writing for The Herald since 2009. Her book, “Happy to Be Here: A Transplant Takes Root in Farmville, Virginia” features a compilation of her columns. You can contact Karen at kbellenir@PierPress.com.