The Middle Distance 5.16.14: Enough to Keep Wonder Alive

May 16, 2014

Credit Photo by Kathryn Eastburn

Credit Sean Cayton

Every Monday night I drive home from Denver after an evening of teaching. Strangely, it is a highlight of the week. Once I’ve gotten far enough south of the blue lights of Ikea, I can finally see the sky about half way to Castle Rock. The road opens up in gentle curves with just a few cars cruising at the leisurely pace of 9 p.m. The radio drones on, a TED talk that makes me weary about all I don’t know and the irritating sputter of the jittery host, so I switch it off. By now I’ve reached the other side of Castle Rock and a window of near darkness above Larkspur. Here, I disappear beneath the western sky. Some nights it is a black slate speckled with a million stars. Some nights it’s overcast with swirling clouds and a white, steadfast moon, waiting to peek out.

Some nights a freight train, silent from this distance, winds through the fields parallel to the highway, between the plains and the mountains.

I think of this quiet passage as the middle, between whatever responsibilities wait at home and the ones I’ve left behind. Between the giant, overly-illuminated urban swath of the city and the giant, overly-illuminated suburban expanse of the town below. It always feels right.

I have strained against this middle all my life, either being too afraid to embark or racing too fast to see it. It’s just now, deep in the middle distance, that it not only makes sense but it’s where I want to be. It comes naturally, as if there’s no alternative. It’s not enlightenment but it’ll do.

Speed has certainly lost its allure. At 60, experiencing the evaporation of time in a way that was unthinkable at 40, the last thing I want to do is rush. If I rushed a bit more, I could get more done and make more money to buy more things and save for leisure when time is running out. But why would I want to do that? If I rush I will miss the middle of the day, the 2 o’clock hour when limbo occurs. When I was a kid I had a Raggedy Ann watch. At ten minutes till two her arms were spread wide and slightly upward in a joyous gesture. I looked at her and believed it was the best time of day.

Adventure looks different now than it did before. Before it meant going somewhere far away and unknown, learning as much as I could possibly absorb, throwing caution to the wind. Now it means reaching outside my comfort zone with adequate planning and taking time to enjoy it when I’m there. It means learning enough to keep wonder alive.

Change happens closer to home, in smaller doses. This morning I read that Americans’ obsession with eight straight hours of sleep is not necessarily healthy and that people in cultures around the world have slept multiple times a day in shorter increments for centuries with no negative results. Just reading this got me excited. Since I struggle to sleep anyway, why not experiment with a different way of sleeping? Cast aside cultural expectations and sleep two hours in the afternoon, three in the late evening when I get tired, and three more in the wee hours before morning. That could open up a whole new window of time to read and write, from 1 to 4 a.m., when even the dog is sleeping and external demands are nonexistent. You laugh, but this is the most exciting change I’ve contemplated in a while. An adventure.

Last Sunday, on Mothers Day, a snowstorm blew through Colorado threatening to kill spring growth and surely interrupting any plans for an outdoor Sunday brunch in a linen dress. At church that morning we all grumbled about it being May 11 and what the hell and should I cover the peonies.

As the morning passed and the snow continued into afternoon, happiness crept inside my warm house. Here I was making pecan waffles and an egg and spinach tart, and outside the kitchen window the garden was covered in white. The storm was neither a blizzard nor a shower, but a satisfying, steady downpour of white confetti from the sky, blanketing everything in sight and muffling all noise.

By Monday night the storm had blown over and as I drove home across the Palmer Divide, beside the interstate highway the snow fields glowed white and plain, vast and mysterious. Overhead, gray clouds swirled. When they parted, in the middle, a flat-faced moon emerged, lighting the road ahead.

Kathryn Eastburn is the author of A Sacred Feast: Reflections of Sacred Harp Singing and Dinner on the Ground, and Simon Says: A True Story of Boys, Guns and Murder in the Rocky Mountain West. You can comment and read or listen to this column again at The Big Something at “The Middle Distance” is published every Friday on The Big Something and airs each Saturday at 1 p.m. right after This American Life.