Driving Greens

For most of the past two days, I’ve been in a minivan with a tween and a “nearly nine” year old. We’ve been through 8 states, covered nearly 1,000 miles, stayed in one impressively crummy motel and listened to 1.5 books by Erin Hunter. The kids have been great, and Erin Hunter’s books are surprisingly good. It’s still a lot of miles for one mom to drive.

Thankfully, last week, Brian Rozinky over at Cast of Characters mentioned Rob Walker’s deceptively simple strategy to help us counteract some of technology’s pull: “Report 10 metaphor-free observations about the world this week.” (From The Art of Noticing)

I needed to do something to stay focused as I drove, so with the drama of animals on the African savannah swirling in my ears, and semi- regular commentary from the peanut gallery in the backseat, I decided to intentionally observe my surroundings. Once I got going on really observing, I found myself longing to take pictures. Of course a) I was driving and b) that kind of undoes Walker’s idea that we should “look closely without technology’s mediation.” So no pictures, just words.

There are a lot of trucks, and they are mostly white. Amazon trucks sporting their “Prime” logo were out in droves. We only passed one truck transporting horses. We all wondered how the horses felt about that.

Somewhere in Virginia there is a water tower that is painted like an apple basket, and near Lancaster, PA (I think) there was a factory with great big beautiful arched windows that gave onto the metal inner workings of the plant.

There are a lot of red and white barns in view of the highway. Grain silos are often white. I don’t know why barns are red, and I don’t know the names of lots of parts of farms once they have more than a house, a barn and a silo.

We passed by one lake that appeared to have worn down tree trunks poking up from the water near the banks. They flickered into my attention and then away. Moments later I wondered if these might be cypress knees. Then I realized I don’t know if cypress grow this far north.

Once I started this exercise in focusing, I found my lack of knowledge startling. For example, birds. Once, in five minutes, I saw four distinctly different types of birds. I have no idea what any of them were. (No robins or red-winged blackbirds, which comprise virtually all of my bird-identification skills.) One was a raptor of some sort; the others? No idea.

In South Carolina, my home state, I easily recognized the quick-growing kudzu that strangles the trees, but what was the vine further north? And what trees did the vines cover? I couldn’t even count of all the different species, much less name them. What amazing variety.

Observing was fun, but remembering was exhausting, and we were on the road for a long time. Eventually I just let the images wash over me. I looked and looked, wondering about the lives of the people in the houses we passed, noticing the billboards, taking in the skyscape. By the end of both days, one impression flooded my senses: green.

Green and green and green… pale white-green on the tips of the grasses at the side of the road; yellower green covering vast cornfields; bright greens and shade-darkened blue greens as the sun played through the leaves of trees on the side of the road; brown-greens of some grasses, gray-greens of others; greens so dark they were almost black; sudden, golden greens where sunlight hit a hillside covered in much deeper green; green fading to nearly blue in the hills further away; bluish-white green of a some of the fir trees; orange-tinted green in the tops of some of the trees; deep greens of still lakes; clear greens in a fast-moving river. All the greens of our world and no way for me to adequately describe them. So much beauty.

Not so much, mind you, that I wasn’t grateful to arrive at the grandparents’ place tonight. But enough that I don’t quite dread the final leg of our journey (7+ more hours on Thursday).

“Report 10 metaphor-free observations about the world this week.” I think I need to do this again.

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7 thoughts on “Driving Greens

  1. We will be driving home to CT from Maine later this week, I may have to try this. We drove up solo with just the girls on Saturday. I’m impressed you were able to drown out the background noise!

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  2. Thanks for playing, Amanda (and passengers)! Two thoughts I took away from this slice: Even as lacks of knowledge can feel humbling, they’re also potential invitations for curiosity. And: Pressing pause on metaphors makes it so much harder to distinguish — among other things — shades of color.

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  3. Summer is all about long drives for me. I try to find ways to entertain myself by doing math with the road signs. 🙂 But every now and then I find myself observing, as you did, and marvelling at the beauty of it all! Enjoy your trip!

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  4. A great challenge, both going metaphor-free and holding the pictures in your mind vs. with a camera – how wonderfully it steps up descriptive detail! I am impressed by how many “wonderings” and realizations it led you to (the barns, the birds — I feel woefully ignorant of tree types myself and am working on that but must say that cypresses are my favorite). I especially enjoyed the line “one impressively crummy motel.” Here’s to more marvelous discoveries on your adventure, Brave One!

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  5. I love Rob Walker and this challenge is wonderful. How interesting to add the dimension of going “metaphor-free”. It was such fun to travel along with you and share your noticings. I especially appreciated your green descriptions and your realizations –“Once I started this exercise in focusing, I found my lack of knowledge startling.” I’ve been thinking a lot lately about naming things and about the power of knowing the specific names of things in our world. (I’m pretty hooked on Robert Macfarlane right now!) My current goal is to learn the names of the varied ferns that grow along my driveway. Good luck with the rest of the drive and enjoy the scenery!

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  6. A wonderful idea for a road trip. I am often caught by an image and want to take a picture. But there is something about technology free observation that appeals. Writing about it inspires me to do the same. I want to learn more bird names, more names of trees, and more names of flowers. Specificity is one of my goals in writing.

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