The morning lays dim and lonely and the wipers make a lullaby of thump-thump against the windshield, coaxing me to sleep. On the radio, a weary DJ on too much coffee tries to produce a lilt to his voice as he announces the day’s weather—34 and rain. I give the engine more gas as the truck climbs a hill, and there along a hard curve I crane my neck to the right, looking down off the ridge. I do it even though it is raining and thirty-four, I do it even as another pair of headlights round the bend ahead and I feel the tires begin to slip. I do it for that small moment because that small moment feeds me for a day.
My commute to work lasts approximately fifteen miles and twenty-five minutes, the majority of which is done in darkness this time of year. Aside from the deer, I meet few living things. It can be a tough haul in January, and not only because of the dreariness. Here in Virginia, it seems every day promises some variation of thirty-four and rain. Many times it’s colder, and sometimes that rain comes as sleet or snow, but the principle remains. It’s a cold soak that lasts months and seeps into your bones. It’s long and lonely and wearying, and I can’t stand it.
There have been times when these morning rides have gone entirely unnoticed. Days when I have a memory of kissing my family goodbye for the day and a memory of arriving at work, but nothing in between. These moments have thankfully been few, the end result of a sleepless night spent writing or worrying (and in many cases, both). But few is still too many, especially when it comes to operating a half-ton vehicle at fifty-five miles an hour.
We are often admonished by the learned among us that much of our unhappiness can be traced directly to a lack of attention. I think there’s much truth to that notion. Those unhappiest days of my life have been the ones that seemed to have passed by without me, or at least dragged me along behind.
That’s why I’ve decided my problem with winter is my problem with life, at least generally. This can be a disheartening season, cold and hopeless, when the only bit of joy lays in knowing that each day faced and survived is one step closer to those long and bright days of spring. And that’s the trap I always fall for. That lie of believing what good and beauty I am meant to enjoy in my life isn’t here in this moment, but in some far-off moment yet lived.
I’ve never really been a New Year’s resolution type of guy, but I’ve given myself one this year. Pay attention. See what I can find.
That’s when I found my glimpse of the valley.
It’s right there just before that steep curve off the hill, there only for a moment, when the span of trees blocking the road yields enough to deliver a vista that spans thirty or so miles from the Allegheny mountains on one side to the Blue Ridge on the other. Fields of cattle reach to the far hills. Ponds glimmer in the morning fog. One morning I caught sight of a clump of ancient four ancient oaks alone in a wide field, sheltering two equally ancient tombstones beneath.
One moment in my day, a single tiny glimpse that is there and gone again. And yet that moment of beauty lasts and sustains me through whatever stress and trouble that day will bring, because I know that sight will be there waiting on my trip home.
There is beauty in this world, friend. Sometimes it is hard to spot and sometimes it is only for a blink, but it is there if we seek it. If we pay attention. And what they offer is greater nourishment than food or drink and more comfort than the warmest shelter. It wraps our souls in finer garments that shield us from a cold world.