Tagcars

Playing games in the trees

A story.

My car started having problems. Not the shiny new used one, the one we haven’t even taken possession of yet. No, this is the one that has been the good one, up until this week, the one with only 218,000 miles on it. (A side note: I hate cars. I hate being dependent upon them. A future full of bikes and trails, even full of carriages, would be fine with me, but that is not the life I live currently.)

Anyway, the good car suddenly started having electrical blips, which turned into full car blips, which led to us all sitting on the side of the road this afternoon. This has become a disconcertingly familiar state for us lately. I was happy to be able to reach a pull off, happy to be in a cell phone friendly spot, happy to have my dad available to pick us up. All in all, not a bad breakdown.

One little glitch? My dad could only take two passengers, so I hung out in the woods for a while by myself. Again, not a bad thing to do. Crunchy fall leaves, shifting clouds, an old oak crumbling into soil. Fresh air, which I sorely need.

After a bit, I walked back toward the road and sat on a rock. I was close enough to watch for my ride, far enough not to feel like I was sitting on the side of the highway. A guy stopped and wandered off down the trail I was sitting by. I waved, he waved, the sound of him trailed off through the leaves.

The traffic kept going by. A truck, and then something through the trees, big like a truck, only in the wrong place. I was thinking truck? Then someone else in the woods? Running maybe, through the trees? Then, as my brain caught up with my eyes and ears, oh yeah, big, BIG moose. Running. Toward me.

It’s not really rutting season at this point, but that’s what I think about when I see a large moose with monster antlers running toward me. Rutting season, for those unfamiliar, is the time of year when bull moose become irritable. Really irritable. All they want are receptive female moose, and everything else gives them the equivalent of road rage.

I was off my rock in about the time it took for big BIG moose to sink in. With extraordinary grace, I leaped behind a sufficiently large tree, checking out the deadfall next to it to think about how much it might slow down a grumpy moose. I looked out around the corner as the moose came to a sliding halt. He looked at me, I looked at him, he spun around and ran off again. His legs below his hocks were much lighter than above, and they startled me as he vanished among the trees.

I glanced back down the trail. Hiking guy had paused there. With the crashing sounds and leafy crumples that accompany a running moose playing as soundtrack, we embarked on a game of charades. I pointed at the moose’s trajectory. He raised his shoulders. I stuck my pointer fingers up along either side of my head. He held his thumbs to his head and spread his fingers out wide. I gave him a thumbs up.

My sincere hope is that he got moose from all that. I suppose he could have been thinking coatrack, or, perhaps, explosion. I’ll never know. He ambled off along the trail, my ride arrived, and we all went on our separate ways.

Once upon a time in a car

I used to love to drive. I didn’t get my license until I was eighteen (in Massachusetts I could have had a license at sixteen), partly because I could walk or take a bus most of the places I wanted to go, and partly because the only car I could learn on was a bear to drive.

That car was mine once I learned to drive it. It had belonged to my parents, and I kept it through college, right up until the floor rusted out and the hole could no longer be hidden by a cookie sheet stashed under the floor mat. My next car was little and silver and had the appealing quality of almost stalling out if I needed to accelerate quickly. That one lasted until my son was born–the actual day he was born–when we discovered the clicking noise I kept hearing was a bad bad thing. These days, I drive a classy thirteen-year-old silver car with 222,000 miles on it, and most days I thank it for continuing to run.

Cars don’t actually interest me very much, other than as a means to an end. I envy people who live in places where they don’t need to drive. The highway that we travel on to get most anywhere is not very bike friendly, particularly if you have kids in tow. There are no bus routes near us. Definitely no trains. Hiking takes me lots of cool places, but none are where I buy groceries, or go to homeschool classes, or any of the other locations I must travel to each week.

I no longer love to drive, but once upon a time I did. I loved being able to go anywhere, by myself. I loved listening to music in the car. All my music came from the radio, for those first cars I drove had functional radios and broken tape decks, and I spent a lot of time switching channels. I’d drive, and sing, and think, and wander, and I didn’t worry about things like gas, and environmental destruction, and the miles I was adding.

I just drove.

It was the most private place I had. Sometimes I drove and cried. Occasionally I drove and yelled, though I restricted that to late nights far away from houses. I told myself stories too, carried them forward from one trip to the next, like leaving a book open on my bedside table. I traveled through space on my own little asteroid.

I still listen to music much too loudly while I drive, and I sing along more often then my children would like. The pleasure is more or less gone though. When it’s warm, I watch for turtles to ferry across the road. When it’s cold, I worry about ice. The romance of cars has vanished completely for me.

Still, there are moments, when I hear the right song at the right volume, that I can feel myself on those roads in the dark again, wandering, thinking, dreaming. My own private bit of time travel, in my clunky old time machine.

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