In the mid-1970s, my family moved back to Michigan and could more regularly visit my grandparents. They lived in the small town of St. Louis, affectionately known by residents as the geographic "middle of the mitten."
As a restless teenager, I remember well that two-hour journey to visit them. For the first hour, we raced north on Freeway 131, whizzing like a jack rabbit past the smokestacks of factories, distant clumps of trees, and the connections to other highways. To me, the blur of landmarks meant we would arrive there sooner, though we never did.
The second half of the trip came when we turned east on Highway 46. There we traveled at the more sedate pace befitting a two-lane country highway, and I felt as if we were crawling along like a nonchalant tortoise on wheels. We passed sleepy towns and field after boring field. That second hour seemed to last twice as long as the first.
Twenty-five years later, as I make the same journey on these roads to bring my daughter to college, I have gained appreciation for the type of travel that plods along or even wanders off the path. I now dread the frenzied pace of the freeway north, and it seems to take forever until I reach the country highway for the journey east.
There, the once-boring fields are now rolling meadows that calm me, simply because they are still there. The freeway is a passing acquaintance I'm glad to bid farewell, but the two-lane road is like a dear old friend.
I felt this most keenly one morning last winter after I returned my daughter to college. On my ride home along this country highway, the warm sun dappled across a broad expanse of frost- covered fields, while the small woods that framed a farmer's home and barn lay in a counterpoint of shadow.
I pulled onto the shoulder, enjoying the quiet moment with no other traffic on the road. I tried to preserve the beautiful scene in my mind, half-wishing I'd brought my camera. I knew, though, that film could not capture what I felt just then, the sense of peace that comes from things that change in ways so slight I must look closely to observe them.
I have seen these same fields and barn dozens of times in the last quarter century. But only now do I notice the little differences, the rise and fall of the corn through the growing season, the lay of the light on the woods, the presence or absence of cows near the barn.
My memories can recall more vividly than photographs the barnyard smells of this country highway, the dips and bends that bring me to familiar sights of grazing horses and fallow pastures, to the bobbling lavender-blue blossoms of chicory and the gentle curves of Rock Lake, still beckoning me to dip my toes on summer days.
As I near the landmarks of the old-fashioned ice-cream stand in Edmore - surrounded by children in summer, closed and boarded-up each winter - and the old Alma schoolhouse so frail that sunlight filters through its walls, I remember far more than the scenes that lie before me.
I think of all the times I have journeyed along this road, and the times I will travel it again, hoping to find it only a little changed. Now I take joy in the familiar things that last, and I savor the enduring friendship of a road less traveled.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society