Although I have had many jobs during the course of my working life, I have never really had a long commute. Not, at least, in terms of miles from home to work. The farthest I ever had to go was five or six miles. In terms of time, especially when I had to walk, maybe an hour was as long as it took me to get to work. But whether long or short, commutes are peculiar periods of our day, and everyone seems to have their own set of rituals concerning it.
Trivial things, when put into the context of a commute, become sacrosanct. Which station to listen to on the radio? How to arrange the briefcase or lunch bag on the seat? What parking lot pattern to drive in order to spot the best possible parking place? All of these things–unwaveringly adhered to with an almost baseball-like superstition–seem to be an extension of the waking up and getting-going rituals that take place before we ever even get on our way. The coffee has to be prepared just so, the lunch tucked into its bag in its turn and not before, the keys handled in just such a way so that nothing is dropped or fumbled while unlocking and relocking doors.
Such things, these small actions, are held to with such fervor and discipline that any slight change is liable to upset more than merely our time of arrival at work; any variation might throw off the whole day, perhaps the entire week.
For those of us who walk to work, as I have done on many occasions of necessity, there are other aspects to the commute that aren’t always appreciated when cocooned inside a vehicle. The aroma of diesel as buses puff and grind by, the far-off rhythmic rattle and clunk of a freight train passing over a trestle, the shush and patter of leaves around our feet as autumn air gusts around us, or the tire tracks through the spring pollen on roads that have not yet been blow off by the morning traffic. And whether or not we walk or drive or catch a ride, there are certain things that only the most oblivious would fail to notice, like how, today, the icy nip on our cheeks that we’ve become accustomed to over the winter is entirely absent. Or how, in winter, a field that is shorn of its crop looks different from one morning to the next, depending on the thickness of low-lying mists that are sleeping in the furrows, and how much of the bare stalks can be seen above the striped blanket.
During springtime, one thing that can hardly go unnoticed by anyone who walks or anyone who lowers a window is the chorus of birdsongs. Not only are the normal year-round birds chirping their lungs out, but all of the migratory birds, too, are lending their joyous noise to the mornings as they prepare for the next northward leg of their daily journey. Farmyards awaken earlier, too, when it is warmer. Chickens and sheep and cows add their own domestic voices to the wild ones. Indeed, who can sleep late within earshot of such a cacophony of singing, chirping, calling, tweeting, braying, and cackling?
My current commute is not very long. In fact it is rather short. But it is not so short that I do not appreciate what I see and hear. Nor is it so long or so far to go that I cannot afford to pause and linger along the way to watch and listen, to taste the air and smell the earthy fragrances, to touch the new day. Sometimes, when I take the time to do so, it is good. Very good. So here, then, is a taste of a recent morning commute:
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