It was early. The sky was a solid gun-metal gray. The rain smelled like summer rain, light and a little musty. It fell softly and met the concrete lip of the carport like the skirt of a ball gown lowered over satin shoes. A womb outside a womb, the morning pulled me from the warmth and stillness of the house into the cool and stillness of the day.
It was early. Only one set of tire treads caught the headlights in the slick mud of road ahead of me. Only one set of tire treads, one set of eyes had come this way before me in the early dawn. I felt the pull of the siren ditches — subtle and slight — beneath my hands curved like C-clamps around the top of the steering wheel.
It was early. And wet. Too early and wet for deer to be moving, but vigilance is not easily loosed and so my eyes watched the edges, all the edges, alert to the slightest twitch of tightly muscled flank or the slightest glint of doe eye.
Ahead and to the left, through the lace of bare-limbed forest, I saw light, artificial light. Blue-white halogen. Cold and clear.
Unnaturally bright. Too high to be headlights. Too low to be a plane. Shop lights, that’s what they were. Shop lights at the farm on the highway. Of course.
Except that if anyone had asked me, in the exact moment before the lights broke through the almost-day, to point in the direction of the shop, of the highway, I would have pointed straight ahead. If someone had asked for directions I would have said, “Stay on this road and go straight ahead.”
But the road isn’t straight. It curves sharply to the left at a spot known as the beaver pond or, more usually, the bad curve. The curve where, in weather like this, cars and trucks driven by the most careful and experienced of drivers have slid into the ditch with the smoothness of butter melting on pancakes. The curve where years ago Daddy was one of the first to arrive at an accident that left three people dead and two more seriously injured. The curve where, no matter how many times you’ve navigated it from either direction, you always catch your breath and feel your heart clutch when you meet another car.
This time there was no other car. This time I maneuvered my traction-less vehicle across the skim of mud through the curve to the straightaway where the lights were, suddenly, directly ahead. Funny how that happens.
I don’t, as a general rule, think much of New Year’s resolutions. Declaring, in the high tide of a celebratory moment, that I will henceforth do something that no previous moment has motivated me to do or no longer do something that no previous moment has motivated me to discontinue has always seemed a little self-righteous. Pronouncing that I will become a better something-or-other invites judgment from pretty much anyone as to whether I was any good at the something-or-other to begin with and also whether my efforts at improvement amount to much. Proclaiming that I will engage in some action or behavior with more or less frequency begs me to elevate the manifestation over the impetus, the form over the substance.
And, yet, on this late December morning, another year fading in the rear-view mirror that reflects plumes of red-brown mud spraying up into the blue-gray morning, I find myself making promises, if not exactly resolutions. I promise that the road I follow will always be the road straight ahead, but with all the curves and detours and dead ends that aren’t yet visible. I promise that I will watch out for the places where the deer are daring and the ditches are deep. And I promise that, no matter how many times I find it necessary to travel any given stretch, I will never try to navigate by memory alone.