I think we all have moments that stick in our minds for no particular reason, except that they spoke to us so strongly that we couldn’t lose them if we wanted to. These lifetime moments may be sad, happy, poignant — or nothing in particular. They just remain as parts of our story, and perhaps of our hearts.
I was on my first road trip. I’d turned sixteen the previous September, and in August of 1961 I drove my bright red 1958 MGA convertible north for a friend’s wedding. My childhood buddy Jeffery had met his Susie in college, and they were getting hitched in a little town just outside of Rockford, Illinois. Jeff wanted me to be an usher.
I left Sebring in a blinding rainstorm, drove to West Palm Beach behind a friend, to drop off the car we’d traded in on the MG, then put him on a bus home and headed up US-1. The Interstate system was still mostly a gleam in Dwight Eisenhower’s eye at that time, and pretty-much didn’t exist between Florida and Illinois. I ran out of the rain at about the Georgia line, drove through Atlanta, caught US-27 just outside of Knoxville, and followed it into Kentucky and Lexington, where I visited with cousins for a few days and had a look at the university I hoped to attend the next year. Then it was on to Prairie Creek, Indiana, to see a girl I had met while lifeguarding that Summer. In a couple of days, I headed on into Illinois.
After my first speeding ticket ever at a speed trap in East Chicago Heights, Illinois (25 in a 20, with a $25.00 fine), I finally made it into Rockford the day before the wedding. As weddings are prone to be, it’s pretty much a blur from that point until I was heading south, back to Lexington, with Jeff’s brother Richard. We parted ways in Lexington, Richard electing to take a bus back to Florida while I meandered south along back roads to see the sights.
When I left my cousins’ place I was pretty tired, so I took a “pep pill” that I’d found in an Air Force survival kit donated to my Boy Scout troop a couple of years before. I knew nothing at that time about amphetamines, but figured if it was good enough for the Air Force it was good enough for me. Thus came my introduction to speed, which is a whole ‘nother — very long — story, perhaps for another time.
Anyway, by dawn the next morning I was somewhere on a winding road in North Carolina, in the Nantahala National Forest. The road twisted and turned along the edge of Fontana Lake, and I got out at one point to stretch my legs and watch the sun rise over the mountains.
It was quiet. So quiet. The only sounds were the ticks of the MG’s cooling moter, and the sound of a single car whose headlights I could see across the lake, perhaps a half-mile away in the direction I was looking. The car turned into the hills, and the silence settled like a blanket. If you’ve been in the mountains, all alone on a cool, clear summer morning, maybe you’ve experienced that kind of quiet. Or these days, perhaps not.
Not a ripple disturbed the surface of the lake a couple of hundred feet below the road. I leaned against the car and breathed in the silence. I don’t remember hearing any birds, and the car across the lake was long gone. Then I heard a distant “caw…caw….” To my left, a single crow was making its way diagonally across the lake. I stood mesmerized, alone with that distant crow. It continued cawing until it passed out of my sight a couple of minutes later.
I’ve never felt so perfectly in tune with a wild creature. I stood there and simply marveled at my good luck for having experienced such a magical moment. Then after a few minutes, I got back in the MG, started the engine and headed back to Florida.
Fifty years later, crows are still my favorite birds.