What can any artist set on fire but her world?

This afternoon, I climbed in the car and made the hour's drive into Columbus for lunch with a stranger. As some of you know, I was feeling far from exuberant about this excursion; it felt far more like gritting my teeth and forcing myself into something than I'd have liked. But I did it in the interest of following through, of seeing whether I'm supposed to be doing the hard work of keeping my heart open, just in case. Having done it, I think I'm out of this game for awhile; I don't see myself finding the things for which I'm keenly sore, and which I was so giddily glowing to think that I'd found this winter, by going on in this vein.

There's a big hill one must climb on OH-229 in order to head west from Gambier. As my car plugged away up the hill, a hawk dropped out of the trees to the right and unfurled its reddish-brown and white tail, fanned it open and wide to catch a thermal. It was in my sightline for just a moment before its swoop and my plod separated us. I thought about that hawk during much of my drive. I see a lot of birds of prey here--hawks, mainly, but also the occasional vulture. Usually, I see them circling high above the woods behind my house; the other day, when the wind roared high even though the sun was brilliant, a hawk hung and dipped, apparently moving simply with the wind's motion, near enough to me while I took some pictures that I decided it was best to keep moving. This afternoon, more than ever, I reflected on the cruelty of their beauty, or the beauty of their cruelty. I'm not even sure which I'd call it. Their grace is absolutely purposeful; their purpose is killing; this killing grace is a breath-stopping beauty.

In another kind of life, I would now progress to the next stage of an analogy between myself, kitted up for a lunch with someone I'd never met, and this graceful prey-bird. But another thing I had time to reflect on, as I waited in the sun for my lunch companion, is the variety of lives I have not led and, because I have no interest in them, will not lead. For instance: the two twentysomething people sitting over my right shoulder were planning their St. Patrick's Day drinking strategy. It took me a moment to figure out what they were talking about, because they were throwing around high numbers--"I've got $60, and that's all I'm willing to spend," one of them said. They plotted shots and food intake, discussed maintenance and the possibility that earrings might vanish ("I really like this pair," the woman said to her male companion. "I don't want to lose them tonight."). I used to hate it when an old somebody used to declare things boring. "I just find it kind of boring," he'd say, sometimes about things that were, to my mind, in no way boring at all. But this afternoon I found his voice echoing in my head, as I eavesdropped on my tableneighbors. What am I doing here? was what I couldn't stop thinking. It was as though I were forcing myself to go through the paces of some bizarre dumbshow that is the life of some people my age but simply isn't meant to be mine, not least because I think I'm done having my social life revolve around a metropolis that's an hour away.

When it all came down to it, on a grand scale of terror to wonder, I'd put my afternoon somewhere firmly in the realm of okay--not something I'd want to do again, but not something that made me murderous. In the past two weeks, I've clarified for myself a great deal that I really wasn't fooling myself about wanting to leave an urban area (if a smallish one) to move back to a rural one. And when--because, I tell you, some people never learn--I managed to get myself into rush hour traffic on the northwest side of Columbus and started flashing back to when I'd pull that deft move on myself in Rochester, I realized that I was reconfirming yet again (can I stop now?) that if I can help it I'd like my daily life never to involve a rush hour, or an interstate. Or an interstate at rush hour. Even if I can get good wine by traveling it.

But: because I'd gotten out my camera to try and get a picture of what I don't want my life to look like (in the shape of a five-lanes-each-way beltway backed up at 5:45 p.m. on a Friday), I still had it to hand when the pictures of what my life happily does look like started to present themselves. The pay-off for the entire day--better even than getting some new Staedtler pens and a new plastic eraser (unparalleled for grading)--came when I realized I'd be driving home from the interstate through thirty minutes of my favorite light. And so, when I wasn't near other cars, I started snapping shots for you (and, who am I kidding, myself as well). My horizons are crooked, sometimes, sure, but keep in mind that I was driving the car--and that the ones that are really crooked or blurred are that way more or less purposefully. Here, at long last, are some instances of those barns I talked about months ago, and if you look closely you can see the green starting to appear in some of these fields.

Even the end of my street was lit up when I got back to Gambier, as if to welcome me home. Only, I knew that I was the one doing the welcoming. This light and these trees are here whether I show up or not, and so, at least for now, here is where I show up. Here is where I live.