Friday, November 12, 2010

Latitude Lassitude

What can you say about an interstate highway...any interstate highway? Basically they all look the same, with minor variations. They are the cement incarnation of a Phillip Glass symphony...seemingly endless repetitions of the same theme, gradually, very gradually evolving from one thing into something else. The music changes with the surface underneath the tires; whispering over smooth asphalt, humming over longitudinal highway grooving, whining over transverse grooves, the tarmac tympani changing the beat from thump-a-thump, thump-a-thump to kathunkety-thunk, kathunkty-thunk as the spacing between the expansion joints changes.
The vegetation gradually changes size, type, texture, tint. The trees seem to observe the state borders. Cruising down Interstate 95, soon after we cross into North Carolina we begin to spot the wispy gray beards of Spanish Moss hanging from tree branches. As we near the the lower side of South Carolina, very close to the Georgia state line we spot the first palmetto trees, and leave the predominant oaks, maples, and sycamores behind.
The colors of the highway change too as we travel, sometimes dark and smooth, then dark with millions of sparkling mica facets that catch and reflect the sunlight, paving the highway with countless diamonds. In parts of Virginia the highways have a distinct greenish tinge from the Catoctin Greenstone gravel that goes into the cement mix, but in Florida the cement pavement of I-95 South is glaring white like the low white sand dunes we see as we turn east off the Interstate toward Cocoa Beach.
Perhaps the most magical change is the air itself. Tropical air is sensuous. Why is that? Surely not just the varying amount of moisture in the atmosphere, since that fluctuates seasonally in Richmond from dry to saturated, and it never feels like Florida. I think that it must be the unique combination of ocean salt in the air and the vegetation. Indian River grass washed up and decaying on sandy western shores, sawgrass, palmetto, swamp-smells blended with hints of flowers and the warm moist air all blend in a heady recipe that seeps into your lungs to work its spell. A few deep breaths and you want to get rid of shoes and wiggle toes in white sand, rub pungent coconut oil on your skin, lie in the sun or sprawl on warm sand. The resulting change of attitude might be blamed on latitude. It isn't exactly ennui, but gone are any plans that involve hurrying. Fading fast is any kind of planning at all. Normally get up at 6:30 or 7:00? Try 8:00 or even 9:00 without a twinge of regret! Thought you might go fishing or paddle a kayak on the Indian River in the morning? Why rush? The river will still be there this afternoon, or tomorrow, for that matter. A few insidious thoughts creep in that you should be doing something, but hey!....sitting and watching a snowy egret stealthily hunting breakfast, or taking note of the changing shapes, colors, and textures of the clouds overhead or watching distant sailboats scurrying south along the Intra-Coastal Waterway...well, those are doing something!

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