There is something reassuring about the way the white markings on the road don’t want to accord with his heartbeat as they whip past. No matter how hard he tries to feel united with the steering wheel’s skin under the palm of his hand, with the purring car or the asphalt being pulled away under him like a long, indifferent ribbon of tar, he and the journey just don’t coincide.
He has long accepted that the fact that some transitions are inevitable. To be someplace, you must want to make the journey to get there. He only wished he had already arrived.
He has endured it all for the umpteenth time: the bustle at the highway gas stations washing over him the moment he opened the car door with a tired conductor’s swing, the sticky trash cans, the crows pecking in the embankments, the grueling lavatories and the children whining in the litter-strewn picnic area.
After a bombardment of that magnitude, resuming the drive can almost be called relief.
His wife studies the map while the children are asleep in the back. He killed the chattering radio sixty miles ago. The monotony of the drive is both comfort and challenge.
They had discussed it before they left: spending the night in some little hotel along the way, or driving on. He doesn’t like interruptions. If they really need to do this, he’d rather have it over with.
But having it over with is taking a long time. The day is crawling on, ever more static gathering in the quiet corners, like stagnant water in a muddy river’s armpit. They switch drivers. They switch again.
In his head the same conversation plays in a loop.
‘A red triangle means danger, doesn’t it, daddy?’
‘Does that mean the deer here are dangerous?’
He makes an effort not to smile. ‘That’s what they’ll say around here, I guess.’
‘What should we do, if we meet one of these dangerous deer?’
‘Don’t worry about it. Just a few more miles and we’re out of their reach.’
They stop just long enough to switch drivers once more. He is glad the last stretch is hers.
By the time the mountains loom into view, he has reached the state in which he still has his eyes open but he no longer registers what he sees.
As the air grows thinner with the altitude, he closes his eyes.
He takes off. The branch rebounds.
There is only the void to catch him now, the invisible web of which he can feel the threads he trusts instinctively.
This is where he belongs, the land for which he yearns even when he has arrived. The sloping valleys. The impenetrable mountain peaks of which the rough nakedness suffices to impress those who — vainly — attempt to subdue them. The lakes, that now mirror the slopes’ deep green, then again the sky’s endless blue, but that from above are mirrors of silver, surfaces of ripples for the sun to attach itself to, a waving cloth draping itself in natural elegance over all that is resting and waiting in the depths below.
He spreads his wings, feels the air rush underneath. The outer pinions, relaxedly curling upwards from the limbs he stretches with pointed precision, caress the wind like fingers would.
He can feel the sun’s weight on his back, the massive current of warm air under his belly. It is a pillar carrying him upwards, taking him higher, to the place where all is released, and all is seen.
The light is laughing in shafts, shattering in his breast.
The SAPLING series is a joint project with artist and illustrator Jurgen Walschot.
Saplings are creative sprouts. I will write to the images, he will draw to the words.
Like any seed, our saplings are reaching for the light, small and slender perhaps, but aspiring to grow tall.