Life Lessons from Windshield Time

Monday, June 6th, 2016

The drive home from my working weekend in New Mexico was a little more exciting than my windshield time usually is, in part because of long stretches of road construction and drivers who behaved like they had never seen orange barrels before and either drove VERY slowly down the middle of the two-lane highway so to avoid those scary edges, or drove VERY fast, weaving around the other traffic. 

And also because of the weather. Cumulus clouds clogged the sky in a way that reminded me of the Navajo saying: It takes many sheep before the rain comes. (The sheep in the clouds in the photo above are beginning to flock over June-green prairie.)

As those cloud-sheep gathered, I drove through the streaming virga (curtains) of a few hard showers, loving the smell of rain on dry soil. And then, about an hour from home in the high desert of the San Luis Valley, the sheep grew into towering cumulonimbus clouds, and the wind began to gust, slapping the truck. 

 

As I drove toward this virga, it thickened and shut out the sun beyond it. And then, when I was directly under it, the dark cloud let loose and marble-sized hail began to smack Red's already-cracked windshield and explode like rifle shots off the roof and hood. In moments, the visibility shrank from miles to yards, and the pavement went from dry to slippery with thousands of hail ball-bearings.

I slowed from 70 mph to 45, and then to 35 as the curtain of hail narrowed the visibility even more and my wipers began to gum up with slushy ice. The hail begn to piled up, and an oncoming truck suddenly shot off the now slippery road, fortunately coming to a stop upright and undamaged. A car followed it. I slowed and both drivers waved, so I crept on, squinting through the hail to see the road ahead as best I could. 

A few loud minutes later, the car that had been half a mile ahead of me metamorphosed in the banging curtain of hail, stopped dead in the middle of the road. I rolled down my window, but that driver waved me on too, so Red and I slalomed around it, and kept on going. 

A long mile or so later, I saw sun ahead, and thought to shoot a photo of the hail (and my gummed up windshield wiper, as it passed by). What looks like sand in the roadside ditches is actually hail, and the pavement is awash in hail, now beginning to melt. Whew!

That little storm was definitely more exciting than I prefer my windshield time to be, and I hope all emerged unscathed as Red and I did. 

Mountain weather is definitely unpredictable. But that's true of all of life, really, isn't it?

We like to think we are in control and know what's ahead. But we aren't and we don't. 

So perhaps my windshield time yesterday was simply life-practice. Here's the wisdom I take from it:

  • When the hail of life hits without warning, don't panic and drive off the road. Or stop in the middle of the pavement. 
  • Take a deep breath and continue on at a reasonable pace.
  • Stay alert; offer help whenever possible.
  • Be open to wonder, even if it's the cacophony of hail on a steel truck roof and the cracking of ice-balls on the windshield. 
  • Watch for the sunshine ahead. No storm lasts forever, even though the moments in it may feel like that. 

On Thursday, I'm hitting the road again, this time bound for Wyoming and an adventure that makes me a little anxious. First a weekend in Cody teaching "Design With Nature" at Thomas the Apostle Center. That I'm looking foward to. 

Then I head for Yellowstone National Park and two weeks of volunteering on whatever ecological restoration work the Park Botanist would like me to do.

Why am I anxious?

First, I'm not young anymore. It's been 35 years since I last worked in Yellowstone. (I'll be sixty this fall.)

Second, I'll be camping in Red for two weeks, the longest I've gone without sleeping in a bed and having indoor plumbing for... well, decades. 

Third, Yellowstone's roads may be clogged with millions of visitors in summer, but go a quarter mile off the road, the crowds vanish, and wilderness takes over. I revel in that wildness and the level of being present it asks of me, but I also know from personal experience how easy it is to go afoul of the big predators, or simply fall and never make it out.

So I'm going to keep the windshield-time life lessons from yesterday's hailstorm in mind. I won't panic.

I'll slow down, stay alert, be open to wonder, and no matter how bad the storm, I'll look for the sunshine ahead. 

I'll also do my best to post about my adventures, but I don't know how often I'll have internet access. So if I'm quiet for a few weeks, don't worry. I'm off on an adventure, doing the planet-healing work I love, and refreshing my essential stores of wonder and joy.