I don't often go north from Flint in winter. Thursday I did, traveling alone to Ferris State for a conference. Driving those roads gets me melancholy, thinking about my first husband. He spent blue collar summers up there and the scrubby lots and pines in rows and brown rivers all touched his heart and filled his poetry. Used to be the only time I'd go up there was with him, waiting watchfully for the sweet sadness to descend on him around Evart. I loved that part of him. Remembering his love for white birches doesn't go away with the end of marriage, now six years past.
But one lays down new memories, even in old territories, a pentimento. Is that the word? I look it up. Oh, man, yes, that's what I mean. Rooted in the Italian for "repent, " the artist changing his mind, painting over that hand that didn't look right, making the eyes turn another way, reangling the troublesome feet, paint over paint. Regret and trying again.
So, my trip a pentimento. MapQuest took me up 75 to M-10, as usual -- 85 miles an hour easy all the way to that cool rest stop at Clare with the cast iron sculptures and the good bathrooms. But after that, M-10 narrows down to a two-lane and if you've got any sense you take a deep breath, not try to pass every pickup or old Dodge, and just pay attention.
Going west in the late afternoon, I hit ochre sunset slanting off wide fields of snow. The brown this time of year is beautiful, every twig limned and distinct, every hawk feather, it seemed to me, sharply visible in the clear late winter air, shadows of the stone houses and outbuildings extending halfway back to the fenceposts, the stiff remains of cutdown cornstalks elegant contrast to sensuous curves of snow.
Last week when I flew back to Michigan from California, gloomy and resistent to my all-too-familiar Midwest, the view from the air after the Mississippi River was like a reverse Wizard of Oz, stunning change from technicolor to black and white -- or brown and white, really -- a shock of subtraction. But driving into the sunset the other day on the old roads, thinking about a lost marriage and heading toward something new and good, the land seemed rich and textured and full of lovely subtlety again.
The soft or shrill voice within us
7 years ago