There are those of us who, through life’s exigencies, are forced to temporarily leave the sanctuary of Tilghman Island and regions surrounding Saint Michaels. We travel to the big city as some might consider Easton or the outlets in Queenstown. Personally, I find the drive a drag.
Still, it falls the lot for us to spend enormous amounts of time in a car. Household and personal needs will require us to go beyond this haven of tranquility in which we live. If we are young and strong we might like walking the road, at least partially. Some local health nuts and exercise freaks may be seen garbed in florid colors, swinging their arms with rigorous determination. They resemble boxers, not with gloves, but with water bottles firmly in hand, taking determined strides, and defiantly heading to unknown destinations. I’ve seen stalwart souls walk the road, not for exercise, but out of necessity. They carry shopping bags from Grauls back to town – some occasionally walk in the rain. I’ve picked up some. In any case, the St Michaels Road is a busy stretch.
I find driving the road tedious. It demands my full attention, or more accurately, numbs it. For an aging man who, for starters, has a limited attention span, and concentrating on the road takes all I’ve got. But in rare moments of deliverance, there are stunning exhibitions of natural beauty that dazzle me and make it all worthwhile. Driving early one morning to make an appointment in Easton became one such occasion.
Getting beyond the Philistine monuments to commerce that block the periphery of St. Michaels, and proceeding just beyond Grauls, the land begins opening up and I can still see the remnants of the region’s agricultural past. Its simple charm is the openness; its expansiveness has a way of reverberating through the spaces of our hearts, those interior regions where Buddhists tell us we find the boundless space of our being. For some, this might seem an overstatement, but I’ll still stand by it: being next to wide open fields is a liberating feeling. It evokes a sense of freedom and possibility. And It sure beats looking at big boxes.
For the season, it was warmer that particular morning. The sun was edging its way above the trees as mist began materializing maybe thirty feet high on either side of the road. I was driving southeast into the sunrise. The developing moisture in the cold air, precipitated by heat from the sunrise meeting the cool earth generated the early morning mist. The mist was illuminated by the sun’s back lighting, so it glowed the way light shines through translucent glass.
The trees, which of course I knew full well were rooted in the earth, I now saw otherwise. It was as if they were growing like hydroponic vegetation, not from somewhere rooted in the earth, but levitating from the surface of some water in which they’d been floating. Their branches appeared as though they were lines drawn from a charcoal pen on a silver canvas.
I proceeded along the road. These ghostly apparitions came and went, but why they appeared in one field and not another wasn’t clear to me. The display did this much for me that morning; the normal tedium of that drive dissipated as some of the mists did, but alternately enchanting me all the way until just shy of the Easton bypass. Unexpected differences lend spice to life.
If I had to abandon the wilds of our rural shore and trek to the big city, this was the way to go.
The drive from St. Michaels to Easton, although it varies some, is effectively a west- east trek, or the other way, an east-west drive. Coming east in the early morning points me directly into the rising sun. I’ll find myself frequently flying blind since such brilliant light obscures my ability to see the scenery in detail or even see it at all. Coming west towards the evening sun, the same sort of thing occurs; creating moments when I can see nothing but a sheet of pure light.
It’s curious how light’s properties are associated mostly with what they illuminate for us; ‘shedding light’ on things is common parlance. How this same light is just as able to blind us as it is to illuminate our path is paradoxical. I have thought of this before in other connections; that is, how darkness and shadows we think of as obscuring our landscapes, keep us from seeing what we wish to, but in fact reveal what we do well to see. Experience has led me to believe that in the last analysis, shadows are as important to seeing the big picture and to apprehend the whole landscape, as is light.
I’d note here that the regulation of climate differences forms the mists that delight us. Mist is tiny droplets of water suspended in the air, formed when warmer water in the air is rapidly cooled, causing it to change from invisible gas to tiny visible water droplets. Temperatures must have sufficient differentiation for the phenomenon to occur.
I see immigration for America in a similar way; peoples of sufficient differences –– whether they are color, nationality, ethnicity, language and unique skills –– when brought together in common cause create a new and vibrant landscape for us all.
I suppose it’s a little like the day I had to leave my usual and familiar comfort zone –– my sanctuary just outside of St. Michaels –– and travel the road to another place: then I could see clearly how the regulation of differences creates new and infinite possibilities.
It’s a beautiful thing, really.
Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.