Last Thursday we headed down to central Illinois for a friend's Christmas party / toddler playdate. It was super fun (I'll share more later). But for me, half the fun is getting there and coming back.
We drive past the suburbs, past the exurbs, past the vaguely ominous industrial area near I-80 and the Des Plaines river. Then the view opens up. When I see the fields and the entire sky, I have a physical reaction; my shoulders drop and my jaw relaxes. My spirit changes too, like all the ugly and cramped up parts of my mind shake themselves out and unfurl into the open space.
I know a lot of people find the midwestern landscape bleak. And I can see that, for sure. There's not a lot to look at. But isn't that nice? The emptiness is soothing to me. This is the landscape and geography that's folded up and stuck deep in my childhood heart. Gentle parabolas of powerlines. Funny old farmhouses and dilapidated barns. Grain bins, railroad tracks, cattle. I haven't lived in a rural area in many many years, but these things are still my visual markers of Home.
The wintertime colors are soothing too. Desaturated greys, browns, greens. All the natural world soft, subdued, faded, and waiting. And I don't mind that the sun isn't out, the kids nap better on grey days anyway.
We had a quiet ride. I didn't turn the radio on. No NPR, no podcasts, not even one of my carefully curated Christmas playlists. Just me and my thoughts; the wind against the car, David's little low-volume DVD player showing episodes of Thomas; Norah's soft baby noises and little rattly toys. And the scenery adds to the quiet, too. Quiet car, quiet colors, quiet sky, quiet mind. I always feel so much gentler and more thoughtful after a ride in the country.