Ways of Seeing by Ruth Farmer: Thoughts about recapturing wonder
The moon, a harvest one, shone light orange as I stared out the window from the back seat of the car. The voices of my sister and brother-in-law joined the vehicle’s hum, as my sister skillfully sped amongst the winding Virginia traffic. It was a treat to sit back and watch the hedge-bordered lawns, red brick houses, and shopping plazas blur by, and to catch sight of the yellow ball glowing through branches, above buildings, and then naked in the dusky evening. Had I been driving, my eyes would have been fastened upon the speedometer, the white lines on the road, the red taillights, and the white eyes of tailgating vehicles.
I grew up in North Carolina, where most of my activities were within walking distance: friends, shopping, the movies, the community center, church. When I lived in New York, I walked to stores, the park, the museum, and the library. Public transportation took me to places beyond walking distance. Living in Vermont for over 25 years, driving has become an integral part of my life. I am usually on automatic the moment I turn on the car’s engine, and my mind is focused on getting from one destination to the other.
Once I had a conversation with a friend about which person I would hire first if I became rich enough to do so: a housekeeper or a chauffeur. My answer was a chauffeur. There are so many interesting things to see along roads and I rarely attend to any of them when I’m driving. If I had been driving at home, I would have — possibly — glanced at the harvest moon. However, I would not have noticed how its light seemed to pulse in the dark, how the shades of yellow transformed. Anyway, the point is the destination, not the journey.
Sitting in the back seat of my sister’s car and watching the yellow moon fill the sky was luscious luxury. “Look at the moon,” I said at one point. Their neutral “Oh” washed over me. We kept moving rather than pull over and enjoy an astronomical phenomenon. This is not a criticism. It is just the way it is.
I used to find air travel fascinating, especially looking at the spectacular blue sky above the clouds. Now my perspective quickly shifts to the plane’s cramped interior. The wonder yields to mundane thoughts of arrival times and connecting flights.
Passengers used to applaud — as a matter of course — whenever the plane landed. On a recent flight, someone began to clap as we taxied on a runway. A man across the aisle from me looked up from his cell phone and smirked. There was something sweet about acknowledging a skill well-displayed, a journey well-ended. I did not clap, so I guess I am as jaded as the man who smirked.
So often the beauty of the world sneaks up on us, like the moon did that night in Virginia. The experience is so much more glorious standing, surrounded by night, with the air caressing you as you stare up at its yellow magnificence. What would it take to recapture the wonder of being above the clouds, even in a crowded plane? Or seeing a harvest moon, even when driving?
Ruth Farmer is a published essayist and poet. She directs the Goddard Graduate Institute in Plainfield, and is sole owner of Farmer Writing and Editing (ruthfarmer.com).
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