Afternoon commute

Today’s snowstorm arrived right on schedule, the flakes starting to fall at Framingham State around 10:30 am, while I was in my office conferencing with students from my morning class. By the time the college canceled afternoon classes and I left my office around 2:30 pm, the snow was already ankle-deep and still falling.

Snowy tree

This is the second time in a row that my afternoon Tuesday/Thursday class has been canceled because of an early dismissal, and it’s the third time this semester I’ve driven home through falling snow. In each case, my commute from Framingham to Newton has been slow, messy, but otherwise uneventful. I don’t really mind driving home in snow if I have the luxury of taking my time…and when work lets you out early, you have no real reason to hurry.

Driveway

On these snowy drives home from campus, I’ve been impressed at how calm my fellow commuters have been. When Atlanta saw three inches of snow several weeks ago, there was widespread panic, but New Englanders are well-practiced at winter driving. Here in Massachusetts, we joke about the obnoxious aggressiveness of so-called Massholes, but in a snowstorm even the most assertive drivers become calm and focused.

Whenever I’ve driven home in a snowstorm, I’ve been struck by a sense of cooperative camaraderie amongst my fellow commuters. We seem to share an unspoken understanding that we’re all trying to get home, and rushing or driving aggressively won’t help. Even in stop-and-go snarls, I find drivers maintaining a safe distance, calmly changing lanes, and letting cars merging from side streets or parking lots to go ahead: small courtesies offered in an attempt to keep a smooth traffic flow. There’s nothing like a snowstorm to (temporarily) cure a Masshole’s tendency to speed, tailgate, or cut off other motorists.

Snowy street

Although I’m always relieved to pull onto my own street at the end of a snowy drive, I don’t necessarily find these commutes to be stressful, just attention-intensive. Driving home in the midst of a snowstorm is a powerful form of mindfulness practice; you can’t hurry the journey, so you take each slow moment as it comes. The worst thing you can do when driving in snow is to make any sort of sudden movement, so everything you do slows to a calmly steady, sedate, and intentional pace. Whether you’re inching in stop-and-go traffic or cruising at 30 mph, the key is to stay steady: no jerking stops, no lurching starts, and no sudden swerves or turns. Instead, you spend a lot of time coasting, tapping your brakes to warn the car behind you as you gradually slow to an eventual stop. There’s no slamming of brakes in a snowstorm, just a patient tap, tap, tapping. Instead of tensing into a skid or swerve, you follow your breath, your secret mantra being “slow and steady all the way home.”

Wellesley MLP/DPW

This morning on my way to Framingham State, I shot a picture of a sign framed by red ivy leaves on a brick wall. It’s an image I first noticed when the ivy on this particular wall started to turn last month, but this morning was the first time I got stopped at the light at this intersection, giving me a chance to capture the shot.

Stone gate

It might seem strange to compose photographic shots on my morning commute, but many days the time I spend in my car driving to or from that day’s campus is the one time I’m really quiet and relaxed, not thinking about much of anything besides the road right in front of me. When I used to drive from Massachusetts to New Hampshire and back, that long commute gave me ample time to meditate: a chance to “be here, now” in my driver’s seat. It’s more than a bit ironic that I could “be here, now” while zooming down the highway, en route between Here and There, but I found if I turned off the radio, a car is a closed environment with few distractions.

Stone steps

These days my commute is much shorter, but I’ve maintained that previous practice of keeping the radio switched off during my drive to campus. Whether I’m driving three miles to Boston College or twelve miles to Framingham State, my morning commute is a kind of daily quiet time, one of the few times during my waking hours when I don’t have to multitask, thinking ahead to X while currently devoting myself to Y. Although there are some mornings when I spend my commute worrying about the day’s to-do list or making last-minute mental edits to the day’s lesson plan, for the most part I simply leave my mind alone, letting it wander from one idle thought to another like a mellow old dog you trust off-leash, knowing it doesn’t have the energy or youthful foolishness to roam far.

Why did the turkeys cross the road

It is at times like these, when I’m not looking for them, that ideas and inspiration arise, even more so than when I’m consciously seeking them. It is at moments like these that an idea to pursue later might arise, or an image might appear that begs to be photographed the next time the traffic light turns red. You never know what you might see on your morning commute, so keep your eyes open.

This is my Day 5 contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

I shot all of today’s photos from the driver’s seat of my (stopped) car while commuting to or from Framingham State or Boston College: selected scenes from this past month’s daily commutes.

Stopping by woods...

On sunny autumn days, I remember how lucky I am to live in New England, a place some people only get to visit on vacation. This past weekend was Columbus Day, an excuse for Massachusetts residents–leaf peepers–to invade New Hampshire in search of foliage, but their annual pilgrimage is one I do twice a week, there and back.

New England asters

On my Tuesday commute, the road from Newton to Keene was fringed with color like a swaddling scarf. Mostly red and gold, these colors glowed as if illuminated from within. The air itself even looked golden: the sky pale blue and trailed with wispy clouds, with everything tinted with a yellow metallic glint that occurs only this time of year. These golden days are precious because they never last.

At one point as I steered my car along a gray ribbon of road wending between glowing trees, a crew of inmates in eye-smarting orange safety vests clustered along the berm, gathering litter into bright yellow bags. On the opposite side of the road, a stubbly brown farm field was liberally dotted with orange pumpkins. Driving from Newton to Keene on days like these is like unrolling an earth-toned panorama, but instead of looking at the scene, you’re in it, wondering if your own skin glows gold and electric.

I wrote this entry on Tuesday in one of my Creative Nonfiction classes, in response to the prompt “Morning Commute.” Many times I’ve wished I had a camera attached to the hood of my car, so I could show you what I see on my Tuesday and Thursday drives between Newton and Keene.

Tuesday was so lovely, I had to stop to snap at least one picture, taken in the parking area of the High Ridge Wildlife Management Area in Westminster, MA, which I pass every time I drive to Keene. Today, it’s pouring rain, making for a much gloomier commute.

February sunset

Because, perhaps, my Thursday night commutes to Massachusetts happen in the dark, on Monday afternoons I’m eager to arrive back in New Hampshire while it’s still light: a chance to get settled into my workweek apartment before darkness falls.

Sunset clouds

Today, I left Massachusetts later than usual, so I had to chase the sunset all the way back to New Hampshire, the sinking sun and a single sun dog blinding me with their double-barreled glare. Sun dogs, I decided, look like a sliver of rainbow; I wish my car had its own camera so I could have photographed the low-leaning sun with its polychromatic twin. Instead, I shot these photos of twilight clouds after arriving in Keene and stopping at the store for this week’s groceries, for woman cannot live on sunsets alone.