Stop for Moose! I read as the car’s headlights caught the sign in the dark. It was about 1 am.
Shanthala didn’t get upset when I told her that we couldn’t travel during her September break.
“I’m going with you or without you”, she declared in a matter-of-fact voice, “I haven’t had a vacation this entire year and I’m tired. I need a break. I’ll take Maya with me if that’s an issue”.
Both the girls gone for a week. What would I do ? Party hard like I was a teenager again ? Finally meet the eyes of the women who’s appreciative glances I had caught a few times ? Share a coffee and a dark corner with one of them and talk about things that mattered? Such as the possible shakeup of modern physics by the neutrinos that defy Einstein’s speed limit, swap ruminations about Rumi, or compare the popular “The Help” with the classic “To Kill A Mockingbird” ? How much better than discursions of Maya’s dinner or conversations about Brave Bitsy with my three year old ?
I sighed. Who was I kidding ? I never partied in my life. Hated them with a passion. I never did read women’s looks well before. I wasn’t some handsome Casanova. The appreciative glances I caught were most likely because they appreciated seeing a dad with a 3 year old. And I haven’t read “The Help” (Shanthala has). Perpetually in angst about the world and my place in it, I was a male version of brooding, Emma Morley, no happy-go-lucky Dex (from
the popular book, One Day). Let’s face it. Without the girls, I was toast.
I did however have two major presentations the week Shanthala planned to make (or take) a break.
“You don’t work on Mondays, anyway”, I said with a smug smile, conjuring up a plan, “Let’s leave on Tuesday and return on Monday. That gives us a week”.
That smug smile had resulted in my being at the wheels at 1am on a Tuesday night, hurtling a rental Malibu down New Hampshire’s highway 16.
Shanthala decided on a tour of Maine and New Hampshire, deciding to show off the colors of the fall world to Maya. After a few fits and starts, I decided to drop Maine from the itinerary. The state was big and beautiful enough to merit a week on its own. So we decided on just the White Mountains in New Hampshire.
I finished my presentation at 12.15, hopped on a cab to the airport and we caught a 1.50 pm flight out of San Francisco to Boston. We had rented a cottage in the woods of the White Mountains, a two hour drive from Boston airport. Figuring that we’d be on West Coast time still, I decided to drive up to the cottage even though we got in to Boston only around 11 pm.
The roads were empty. I had not driven down such empty roads in a long time. When I had looked up guidebooks about the place, I had been surprised to learn that moose was common in this neighborhood. I had thought moose were denizens only of much more northern environs.
Exhaustion, like much else, isn’t a black or white thing, a line cast in stone, on one side of which you’re exhausted and on the other not. Between being awake and alert and sleepy and exhausted lies a gray zone in which a tired mind can easily get confused and miss crucial signs. I worry that I might be in that zone when I’m driving late in the night. A part of me wants to press on the gas to get to my destination as quickly as possible, while another urges caution, to be not so fast as to be caught by things crossing in the dark.
I had heard of bad outcomes when vehicles had crashed into deer at high speed. Crashing into a moose was considerably worse. For a while, I wondered why would they attempt to cross the road. We had built a road right through where they lived and expected them to accept it and not bother us. I thought about similar conditions in India where highways divide villages and amenities, highways that people tried to hurry across much like these animals, and were struck down, especially in the dark. Why not build a pedestrian crossing over the highway for these animals, I thought amusedly.
The night was dark and as we drove into the mountains, the black night was obscured by fog in places. I instinctively slowed down. I had the headlights on high beam, to see as far and as wide as possible.
When I saw a sign for moose or deer crossing such as “Deer Crossing Next 3 miles”, I wondered if the deer read the signs. As Maya lapsed into sleep in the backseat, my mind kept wandering back to the poem which put Stafford in the limelight, winning him a Pulitzer. Called “Traveling Through The Dark”, the poem speaks of driving down a dark, mountainous road and making a discovery.
Traveling through the dark I found a deer
dead on the edge of the Wilson River road.
It is usually best to roll them into the canyon:
that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead.
By glow of the tail-light I stumbled back of the car
and stood by the heap, a doe, a recent killing;
she had stiffened already, almost cold.
I dragged her off; she was large in the belly.
My fingers touching her side brought me the reason—
her side was warm; her fawn lay there waiting,
alive, still, never to be born.
Beside that mountain road I hesitated.
The car aimed ahead its lowered parking lights;
under the hood purred the steady engine.
I stood in the glare of the warm exhaust turning red;
around our group I could hear the wilderness listen.
I thought hard for us all—my only swerving—,
then pushed her over the edge into the river.
Luckily for me, I faced none of that. Tired, but safe, I pulled into the rental cottage, at about 2 am.