The Long Drive North
If the storm had veered to the west, we might have gotten another blizzard, but it had mostly stayed out to sea and we only got a dusting. So, the road was mostly dry, and there weren't many cars on it. I was heading up to help clean out my childhood home. My mother had died in a car accident during Hurricane Sandy and now we were preparing to put the house on the market.
As I headed out, I entered a limited access highway. It went up through the valley; picturesque and with poor radio coverage. I left the radio off and thought about the trip. It was the beginning of Lent, a good time for reflection. I passed one factory town with rectangularly shaped buildings that didn't quite line up. It was like the play village that my sister and I had spent untold hours playing with as kids. When my daughters were born, I received the play village and they played with it. My sister always said that it was her village. I never knew if she was joking or serious. My recollection was that all four of the siblings played with the village equally at one point or another. Yet I brought the play village with me for her to share with her grand daughter.
Along the highway were rock outcrops dangling with long icicles. As a kid, we would look at these outcrops and discuss geology. In the winter, we would travel along side roads, and find large ice formations like these. We'd gather up the ice, and bring it home to cool the milk in our ice cream machine as we made lemon sherbet.
Eventually the highway spilled out onto a two lane road. I kept driving north, past old nearly abandoned mill towns. My mother had worked in a paper mill when she was young. Beyond the mills were small New England farms, like the one my mother had grown up on. The mills and farms gave way to the tourist trade as I entered the environs of the Western New England art scene. Bed and Breakfasts popped up along the road. Beautiful homes off in the hills seemed like likely retreats of various patrons.
My path followed the Naugatuck River and then, further north, picked up the Farmington River. Later, I crossed the Hoosic River shortly before heading up the hill to the house I had grown up in. As an adult, I took my family swimming in parts of the Farmington River. When I was a kid, I had canoed the Hoosic River with my father, but was always worried about falling in, since it was downstream from various factories.
Early on in my trip, in the area that had gotten clobbered by a blizzard a week earlier, some of the trees were still trimmed with residual snow from the storm. The most common winter time recreation I saw along the drive was snowmobiling. I had driven my Uncle Bud's snowmobile when I was young, but I haven't seen people snowmobiling in years. I passed a lake with snowmobile tracks running across it. At the side of a lake was a large lodge with a sign outside saying, "Snowmobilers Welcome". Also out on the lake, along with several other lakes I passed were people ice fishing. At times, I passed the tranquility of golf courses, now snowbound, with one or two people here or their making their ways across the fairways on their cross country skis.
There is some beautiful about New England in the wintertime, but there is something frighteningly bleak as well, a sort of bitter solitude of loneliness and dashed dreams, like Edith Wharton captured in Ethan Frome.
As I pull into the driveway, I pause to wonder, what will I find inside? How are my sister and brother doing? What sort of work needs to be done to prepare the house for market? How much of that is simply physical work of cleaning and moving, and how much of it is emotional work of confronting old memories? What other storms must be faced before this chapter of my life comes to an end?