A Route Less Traveled


One of my favorite drives is up Route 76 from Belvidere to Clinton, Wisconsin.  If I am in a rush, I take the tollway.  I pay my $1.30 exit fee and get treated to a display of box stores and construction equipment.  Route 76 is the “back way”; it’s not a route that can be taken in a hurry.  There is a law of nature that decrees if you have a deadline to meet while traveling up 76, you will end up behind fifteen semi trucks all carrying wide loads.  The load itself can be either a yacht in shrink wrap or half a pre-fabricated house, either will suffice to slow you down to a crawl.

Once north of Candlewick Lake, Route 76 is a straight shot to the Wisconsin state line.  The road is slightly higher than the land around it, giving a great view across the fields.  Farms are divided by thin lines of tall trees.  In the spring, the trees are green and the tractors are out.  Driving past, it looks they’re painting the gray soil a deep dark brown.  In the summer, the land is hidden by corn.  I learned the rhyme “knee high by the fourth of July” when I was a kid; in this area that would be true if you happened to be the Green Giant.  The stalks turn golden in the autumn sunlight.  The leaves on the trees change quickly.  It’s important to drive by within a week, before the fierce winds in the area strip the color from the branches.

It’s winter time now; even that can be beautiful.  I’m often reminded of Clement Moore’s description from The Night Before Christmas.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow,
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.

I was driving back one night a few weeks ago.  The moon was full and bright, the closest it’s been to Earth in fifteen years.  The moon itself was almost too much to look at directly, but the surroundings weren’t the flat colors of the midday sun.  The sky was a deep sea blue, a cold color that made the few back-lit clouds in the sky look almost crispy to the touch.  The naked trees stuck out of the barren fields like shadows of claws reaching up from the land.  The moonlight streaked on the snow like the surface of a still lake.  It sparkled away infinitely in all directions, stretching out towards the clear cut stars embedded into the surface of the sky.

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