Friday, June 22, 2012

The Mythic Road

I was driving down a particular country road the other day, a drive I hadn't made in years. It was a hot, lazy June afternoon, just another summer day in Kentucky. I've always liked that road, which is scenic and beautiful no matter what the season is.

I attended an art exhibit at a tiny museum on this road years ago in the dark time of the year, the result of a collaboration between an artist and a poet whose imaginations ran to fauns, fairies, and living blackbirds baked into pies. It was exactly the sort of thing I liked, and I remember how magical the frosted hills and fields seemed when I drove home afterwards, as if someone had sprinkled pixie dust along with snow all over the landscape.

I remember another occasion when I took a weekend drive, this time on a benign April day of blue skies, out on that same road. As my car rose and fell with the roller-coast hills, and the miles of plank fences, grazing horses, and bright spring greenery rolled by my windows, I remember catching my breath, thinking, "I live here, and I still feel like I'm in postcard, not a real place."

Then there was the time I was returning from the Kentucky Book Fair in Frankfort, which is always held in November. It was twilight on a gloomy autumn day, and I was driving down a section in Woodford County where the trees on either side form an arched tunnel, so that you might almost imagine yourself in the nave of a very long Gothic cathedral. On this isolated stretch, with fields rolling out in all directions, I was startled by the sudden appearance of a large deer (or were there two?), leaping away from the low stone wall at the side of the road. That was long before I heard Rumi's poem, "Unfold Your Own Myth," with the line about chasing a deer and ending up "everywhere," but even so, I recognized some magic in this encounter.

I was remembering all this while driving the other day, drinking in the beauty of the countryside and tooling along modestly, when--lo! From the left side of the road, a blackbird flew into my line of sight. Flying low and deliberately, he swept across the road in front of my car, and I heard a thump. Looking back, I couldn't see anything, and I had visions of myself motoring down the road with a bloody bird on the front of my car. When I got to a place where I could safely stop (which happened to be the parking lot of the museum), I got out apprehensively, fearing a gory scene. To my surprise (and relief), there was nothing.

I got back in the car, somewhat mystified. Had I just winged the bird? It made an awfully loud thump for just a graze. And what caused the bird to do that, anyway? It's not as if he couldn't have flown above the car, or behind it. It reminded me of the only other time I recall hitting a bird, when one flew into my windshield as I was driving to Florida for a job interview. It had seemed like a bad omen and may actually have been just that (I didn't take the job, and I believe it was a good thing that I didn't). This latest bird, though, seemed to have melted into thin air, like one of the blackbirds from the pie, winging his escape from a floury end and not caring how many Toyotas he dinged in the process.

A few miles down the road, I had somewhat regained my composure and was musing over how much history I actually had with this road, when to my right, I noticed a sign for a narrow lane, "Faywood Road." My first thought was, "Of course. There are definitely fays in these woods, and somebody knows it besides me."

Sometime later, I realized that the name probably referred to the location of the road, running through two counties, but I like my explanation better. I can just imagine them, creeping out quietly under the full moon, once the farm dogs have all settled down for the night. They have their banquets and fairy rings under the trees in summer, and they dance and sprinkle frost under starlight in winter. Blackbirds fly in and out of their intricate dances, and they are occasionally accompanied by fauns.

One particularly sore and irritated blackbird will probably be sitting out the dance tonight, telling anyone who will listen, "If it's not one thing, it's another."