Towing my boat to Stillwater Reservoir in the pitch blackness of an Adirondack night I realized I had forgotten to turn off my high beams. I realized that after just one car passed me out of the 15 plus miles I had to drive. In the midst of such an “oops” I also realized, over the years, I had increasingly stopped using high beams.
Having lived in Tennessee since 1978, and even on tour, there’s always plenty of traffic, plenty of lights, including street lights. Tennessee nights are often more like dusk or dawn, even back on our rather isolated 28 acres. The moon shining through the humidity and the pollution creates a luminous haze. Fog from the Cumberland River obscures a lot some misty mornings and nights. You don’t even need to be near a river, lake or pond to feel lost in the mist. Dan Fogelberg loved Tennessee misty mornings. I did for a while, but eventually was unable to pierce through the murky air. The beauty of the night can’t find a place to be appreciated.
They made me miss the Adirondack evenings when I’d ride to the middle of Twitchell Lake. I would lie back on my snowmobile seat and gaze up at a depth of stars I have seen almost nowhere else.
I learned to drive in the Adirondacks, having bought my first car here for $25: a 61 Studebaker Lark. I bought Harvey when I was 15 and drove the private, rural, roads near Twitchell Lake. I even took my driver’s test here. I could get access to a car via a policeman: Uncle Daryl. Few curbs. No street lights. Parallel parking was behind one car, no car in back of me.
”Harvey:” named after the white pooka of movie fame by the owner previous to me, was a great car. When Harvey’s life was at an end, due to rust and too much burned oil, I didn’t have the heart to shoot him. I gave him to a friend. Never saw him again. Harvey, like more than a few of my cars over the years, had a floor button for high beams. And I remember using that pleasing feature many times. In the darkest of nights high beams pierced the beautiful blackness.
I’ve been thinking of politics and social issues, and no matter what any of us believe or think, I realized we have been running on high beams for a long time now, trying to pierce our way through distractions, the fog, and plenty that obscures the good in life. Of course high beams often just make it worse. I wish all that could be as beautiful, as clear, as those Adirondack nights. Seems we are all trying to poke our high beams through the murky, often all too ugly, gunk. Junk dominated by deliberate misinformation, hate, dogma and fear. I could just shrug off the unacceptable, but I’m too stubborn for that. And high beams can make the murk murkier, so navigating becomes close to impossible.
Meanwhile, I also fear I may have accidentally blinded an occasional driver when I find that fog has me steering in the wrong direction by mistake, or I over react. Yet feel some comfort that I am not like those who delight in being road warriors, overly aggressive drivers, eagerly shining high beams in the eyes of all who refuse to accept others have a right to different opinions. I hope that’s not who I am. I really hope.
2020 has been a higher than high beams year. Are we merely missing the beauty of blissfully quiet night-like days? Outside, the sky is an intense blue, the trees frame, the lakes glimmer, but for some reason I keep expecting a swarm of murder hornets. I think this year missing the good among the bad is a common experience. Even in the worst moments one might find meaning, find something amazing, entertaining, enlightening.
While in college, after being in the off, off, OFF Broadway version of Company, I was invited to act in a play written by a fellow thespian. I was a boisterous, loud mouthed, minister. Required a lot of projection. Required me assuming a role that has NOTHING to do with my own personality.
We did several shows. At the very end of the last performance my voice broke. I’m sure I sounded like a cross between having breathed in helium and a raspy Pee Wee Herman. I was so devastated that when I went to change I just stayed in the bathroom, not wanting to face Steve Wagner, thinking I had ruined his play. Two critics came in and started laughing and applauding. They hadn’t seen the previous performances.
“Incredible! I loved how you did the part straight and then mocked the very character you were playing!
Plenty of backslaps and handshakes later I returned to backstage feeling better. I found the beauty in a moment my high beams couldn’t pierce. The stars are still there. Maybe we just need to look for them?
Sometimes you have to find the beauty in the worst moments, even though they seem absent, not as lost as we think they are. Sometimes not even over the next horizon. Sometimes we’re just too distracted by pain, by worry, by the glare to see.
Here is my wish for 2020 in 2021. Once 2020 skulks away we see the irony, the good things, the wonder we missed as we high beam our way into better days, better nights. May the light provided by such wisdom eventually light our way back to the beautiful, deep, darkness where the moon hangs like a Christmas ornament atop Adirondack pines.
Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 40 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks, and into the unseen cracks and crevasses, that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
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