My commute to the office usually takes about twenty-five minutes. It’s two-lane, country driving the entire way along one of the Illinois’ River Roads. My landmarks as I drive are a railroad crossing, a bald eagle nest, and a couple of roadside picnic benches. There usually isn’t much traffic, but you do have to watch for deer. Especially during the rut.
This time of year, I watch for turtles. So far, I’ve stopped and given a crossing assist to five of them, parking along the roadside with my hazards flashing. (Only one peed on me…but that’s a different story.)
It’s a lovely drive. It’s the same drive that my Chicago friends have to make when they come visit me at the ranch. Nearly every one of them has commented on it; it isn’t like the drives they’re used to into and out of the city.
As for me, I try to be mindful of it, but as often as not, I don’t really notice the drive as I’m making it. Today I was driving home around 5:00, and I got stuck at the railroad crossing. A train had stopped on the track. Traffic was stacked fifteen cars deep when I pulled up.
I had been daydreaming about getting home in time to make the early evening hot yoga class at my yoga studio in town. Sweat. Stretch. Zone out. Bliss out. I was pre-congratulating myself on just how mindful and zen I was about to get. (Look at me, self-caring the shit out of this evening.)
I was thinking about it as I stopped.
Five minutes. (I can still make it if the train starts going….now…)
Ten minutes. (Cars start turning around.)
Fifteen minutes. (If I turn around I won’t stand a chance.)
Seventeen minutes. (I don’t stand a chance anyway.)
I did a three-point turn and started driving back towards the office, my “preemptive zen” rapidly being replaced by annoyance and mild bitterness.
I took the first right turn available, hoping it wasn’t a dead end, allowing my inner critic to lecture me about missing the yoga class I had been planning to attend. Suddenly, it wasn’t just an unfortunate circumstance resulting in shifted plans, it was a ruined evening.
(Maybe now would be a good time to mention that I lost a pet yesterday, the third in about a month. I’ve been out of sorts and anxious for several weeks now, parsing through feelings and emotions that my brain doesn’t really want me to feel. My stress levels have been running high.)
Then, about a mile down this road I’ve passed a million times but have never driven down, I started to notice.
It was lovely. Truly lovely.
Cornfields and meadows hugged the sides of the road. Quiet fields on each side hedged by the ridge line of the river valley. Wildflowers. Small houses, some of which have probably stood there nearly a century. The clouds were rolling in above. Asphalt rolled by below.
I crossed a creek. Drove by old barns being reclaimed by the land: red-painted timbers fading gray. I watched a turkey vulture wobble his wings against a thermal in the distance.
I’ve lived in this area most of my life, but I had never driven down that road.
I didn’t know it was there, eventually looping back around to the state highway, hidden away just a bit. It’s beautiful in an understated, distinctly Midwestern, way. Family farms. A creek rushing to the river. Corn that stretches emerald green into the distance.
My detour lasted maybe ten minutes.
My class was starting by the time I came out the other side, but that didn’t matter quite as much as it had when I turned off the main road.
Sometimes, when you least expect it, the universe gives you the gift of what you need even if it isn’t what you had been looking for. Even when you vehemently explain to the universe that you know exactly what you need to do to feel connected again–because mindful, zen, yoga dammit!!!—sometimes the universe has the good sense to send you down a little detour instead.
I found a little dose of serenity. A tiny reminder that there is beauty all around us if we open our eyes once in a while.
Dear ones, never underestimate the power of a little detour and a country road.