No Road To Follow

Picture a field of freshly fallen snow. A blanket of powdery white that stretches between the trees. In this field you know there are two things: a road, and a perilously soft shoulder with four feet of packed snow that will eat your car like candy if you get to close.

You are armed with your memory, whatever sense of distance and direction you were born with, a set of winter tires, and a vehicle whose back end swivels like a stripper on the pole even under ideal road conditions. The visibility is poor, a fog is rolling in, and – if you are very unlucky – there will be moose.

Now…. drive.

Most sane people wouldn’t. They’d take one look at the conditions and walk away. Which makes this field of pristine snow an excellent metaphor for so many things. Faith, work, immigration, politics, publishing, illness… Most people look at the trouble in front of them and turn away. They go back where it’s safe and they stay there.

But someone has to cut through the snow.

Someone has to set a path for everyone else to follow.

For me, I had to go because the kids had school. It’s prosaic, but it’s reality. The kids had to get to school, so I went out on the roads, cutting a path, marking a place for the other cars to follow. I know there’s a little old man who walks his tiny dog three times a day, and he’ll walk in these ruts today. I know the retiree next door shops on Tuesdays, and their little car can’t handle deep snow, they’ll follow these ruts today.

If I go off the road, then so will the others. The ruts freeze in weather like this and it’s hard to break a car away from the path that’s been set. My choices in the field of snow will influence the choices of everyone who drives the road today. I’m the one marking the lanes. I’m the one setting the ruts. I’m the one leading the herd. For better or worse.

I make the drive four times in the morning – two out and two back – and I’ll make three more times this afternoon. The snow is still falling. The ruts will fill in. There are cars lining the ditches on the main roads. But, on our little back road, there’s a set of tracks set by my big tires. Hopefully a snow plow will come by this evening, but it can take days to clear the roads. It’s not really a winter storm. Storm is too strong a word. This is a muddle.

A muddle of snow and fog and luck.

And so we muddle along. I make a path. My neighbors follow it out and in. We clear the road with our tires as best we can, trying to make space and redefine the roads. That’s part of civilization. We make communal choices, we work together, we set the rules, and we hope we don’t drive humanity off a cliff.

Drive carefully, my lovelies.

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