Sometimes you just have to get the hell out of Dodge.
It had been quite a week. I alternated between being horrified by the George Floyd killing, appalled at the riots, and concerned over friends’ experiences with COVID. More inconsequentially, my little laptop consistently freaked out over the number of spreadsheets I needed open at one time. Although I feel fortunate to have a job—and one that enables me to work remotely for now—the week seemed 14 days long. So my husband and I packed a bag and hit the road to visit our daughter and son-in-law in Indiana.
They live in Bloomington which is a charming, vibrant college town. The trouble is that to get there you have to travel through Nowhere: miles and miles of farm land. I found myself wondering what it was like to live on a remote farm: would I feel more removed from current events and crises if my window looked into a grain silo? Are days punctuated by calf births insulated from the 24/7 news feed? Does dabbling your feet in a pond and greeting the resident geese offer perspective? As we traveled through monotonous corn fields, my musings refreshed my brain, painting over the week’s angst with grassy green.
There’s an intangible joy in visiting your adult child’s home. I remember my parents visiting us when we lived out of town; I remember hanging guest towels and readying their bedroom. Now I see it from the parents’ perspective: the satisfaction of being hosted by your grown child who is blessedly self-sufficient. I remember when we packed up mismatched plates and odd silverware for Anna’s first college apartment. Now her kitchen is replete with still shiny wedding gifts, and she has more flatware than me.
When we arrived, we were greeted by beer and pizza on their back patio. Sidling up to me immediately was their border collie, Coda, ball in her mouth, ready to play. Coda wakes every morning with fetch on her mind. For her, there is simply no greater pleasure. It was a stunning evening, with a gentle breeze rustling the lush yard behind the patio. That grass was calling Coda’s name—begging for a ball to roll through it. Our children disagreed, however.
“It’s been raining, and it’s muddy,” admonished my daughter. “Don’t throw the ball.”
“Don’t throw the ball,” said my son-in-law.
I threw the ball. I couldn’t help it; I relished in watching Coda’s long strides and leaps toward the ball. Like our journey through farmland, the backyard play lifted my spirits and centered me, driving away the week’s spiraling events. Perhaps I needed to play ball even more than Coda.
An hour later, I saw what I had done. Anna brought out the soapsuds and we spent 20 minutes detangling the long fur and washing off the mud caked on Coda.
“I told you you’d be sorry,” Anna sighed as we scrubbed.
I wasn’t the least bit sorry, and my co-conspirator’s green eyes said she wasn’t either.
The next day we walked around Switchyard Park, a 65+ acre community park that is in the process of being converted from the McDoel Switchyard, a railroad hub established around 1910. I read about the factories nearby that depended on the switchyard. I imagined the families whose livelihoods were tied up in these factories. My mind conjured up images of front porches and unlocked doors, lunch pails and neighborhood stick ball games—of life before there were thousands of brands of sneakers, before everything was so complicated. Vignettes of these simpler times played out in my imagination as I strolled through the park; like grassy fields and muddy games of fetch, my imaginings helped push back current disturbances.
I was particularly intrigued in learning about a tributary that was diverted through an underground culvert. When the defunct switchyard was converted to a park, the stream was daylighted. Later I read more about daylighting and how such projects from Kalamazoo to Yonkers have mitigated floods, improved natural habitats and helped retain nutrients in the water. In short, stream daylighting is restorative, bringing forgotten tributaries back to life.
Metaphorically speaking, our country yearns for daylighting—for a return to goodness and normalcy and health. The forgotten needs to be brought into the daylight, and our aggregate national faith needs restoration.
As for me, a weekend in Indiana was like opening the shutters and letting the daylight in. It’s invigorating to play in the mud, meander through farmland, and marvel at history. Take a page from Coda’s book and just play ball; even if you get dirty, it’s worthwhile. Sometimes you have to journey through nowhere to get somewhere.