Posted by: Peadar Ban | February 24, 2014

A Turner Moment

(Those with eyes to see will come to know the toll exacted for a ride along the “free way”.)

I still remember the sky in Texas; the way it looked when I lived there just a bit more than half a lifetime ago.  We were in Houston, to the west of the city, and a bit south of that well ruled straight line called I-10.

I’ve never much liked driving on Interstate highways.  For one thing there’s too much company most of the time, and not much of that friendly at all.  For another thing, taking the Interstate anywhere is all about getting there, and really very little at all about the trip itself. Of course since the 1960’s our vehicles have become more and more a means of avoiding the “trip itself” as an experience; more quiet, more comfortable, more smooth riding, more “tastefully appoynted” and more filled with those amenities and luxuries (cup and drink holders, radios, cd and video players, seat warmers, and what alls) as to help us believe we are anywhere but on the road again.  Soon, with the coming of robotic driving, it will seem as if we in fact are no longer on the road at all.  I hope those vehicles come with curtained windows…on all sides.  See the USA?  That way?  Nah.

I have, really, never much liked Interstate driving…except for this.  Every once in a while one can get a glimpse of what the world is truly like while zipping along on one of those things.  One can reach to crest of a long drive up a hill and see a couple of hundred square miles of inter-mountain valley rolled out down there, or the towers and tops of a large city; cross a river, like the Susquehanna at Harrisburg or the Hudson from NYC to Newburg and be swept away on currents of beauty and history.  The problem is those sights can never be fully appreciated unless one stops and looks.  And, on the Interstate, it’s not so much you driving the car as it is the schedule, the clock, behind the wheel.  It’s not so much the way, as the way’s end that counts.  That’s why 55mph never worked, and 85 has become the new 65.

Anyway, there were days down in Texas when 55 would have seemed like “C” squared on the ride in from Katy or out from Houston along I-10.  And, that was why I figured that if I had to amble along inside my G-ride I might as well do it under nicer conditions.  So I took another road and that made all the difference as any old farmer knows.  I’d ride into and out of work on Memorial Drive, a tree lined curving stroll that may at one time have been an old cow path, and old Indian trail, an old wagon road before it came to be a well manicured tour of some of the city’s ritzier neighborhoods and prettier sights to see.  The last bit was a drive through Memorial Park.  I have never taken the time to learn who or what was memorialized in the park, along the drive, unless it was just the recognition that beauty is worth the effort for its own sake.

There were spots along that road where it was always easy to slow down and make the morning last a little longer on the way in, or the evening on the way out.  I remember looping curves along the crest of a little slope above some tumbled trees and tangled vines allowing the slow mover to see and think about a bit of wilderness a mere mile or so from steel towers and street lights.

But, there were days when I couldn’t for any number of reasons, and sometimes because I simply forgot to take the other road, when I found myself on the Katy Freeway, as it was styled.  The fellow who thought of that thing in italics at the top of this little dribble of mine knew what he was thinking.  I wonder how many domestic storms and squalls have been born in the weather system known as the drive home.  But, the strange thing is that driving down the road in any direction in Texas, and maybe in all those other flatland states, has a particular  attraction for the person who doesn’t want to be there at all; a dangerous and peculiar thing.  I’m speaking about the sky, that thing that got me started a few dozen words above.

On those absent minded mornings and evenings, arriving  blankly at either end of my penance, I would have spent the last, or the better part of, one hour at least with my eyes focused not on what was going on in front of me, but on what was going on above me as I watched sun and clouds played with each other and light for my own delight.  Perhaps there were some others along the way who did the same.  I never noticed.

I know I never saw them doing what I did from time to time.  It would happen when what was unfolding up in heaven was just too beautiful to miss.  I’d pull off the road and get out of the car for a 350 degree view of the show.  While I stood craning my neck a million cars rolled, sped, rumbled and roared by.

There’s a 19th century British painter with a 19th century British name, John Mallord William Turner, who would probably have loved Texas for its skyscapes.  I used to think of some of his stuff, and imagine him or someone like Monet, or Sargent, or Thomas Cole standing there painting like mad.  And I remember the  days, the mornings and the evenings filled with shape and color, and how easy I thought the master painter did the work.

I began to call those times Turner Moments.

I had one this morning looking out my bedroom window.


A Turner Moment: February 24, 2014 8:30 AM

A Turner Moment: February 24, 2014 8:30 AM


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