For the first time in my life I was freed from the tyranny of my mother tongue – this English language, the only one in which I was fluent, the language that had been so useful for making lists and arguments and putting forth closure and conclusion, but was of so little use to me in this time when everything was changing.
A language that worked now was that of trees billowing out on either side of the old style parkways I drove now for the first time or the first time in years. Special old four-lane, divided and landscaped highways from the early days of automotive motoring. Highways that brought instant nostalgia whether it was the name of the Merritt Parkway, which I had traveled to go to Kitty’s place when 16, or the Palisades Parkway along the Hudson atop high cliffs that spoke of sensuous danger, or the old Taconic, the take-off route for northern destinations – the Taconic, which felt familiar though I could not remember being on it before.
The Merritt Partkway like the rest of Connecticut as I remembered it, intensely green and hopeful and unadventurous, and strangely comforting in its lack of surface excitement. The Palisades, high above the river, with a circular restaurant with fireplaces and fans rather than conditioned air, and they cooked the cheap hamburgers to order, a time warp situation. And now the Taconic, so like the roads that were driven in 30s movies and civilized old detective novels.
On the Taconic this summer they had still not gotten around to anything resembling the exits and entrances of modern turnpikes. So far from having cloverleafs, you could simply turn off the Taconic onto narrow roads that went off at right angles, appeared without warning, and seemed that summer to as often as not go through bowers of lush vegetation – like tunnel entrances to enchanted lands. Several times I turned off to see what was there and, by God, I would come out the other side of the tunnel in my aqua Mustang and I would be in exactly the kind of enchantment I had imagined – rolling hills and flowers and cows and horses and once even fluffy sheep.
It all came in these new word-free languages I was learning – everything now so far from books I’d planned or actually constructed.
Constructed. That’s all I seemed to have left in 1986 of what writing had been about. Constructed with a certain end result always expected. As perhaps in my grandfather's novels, that not so long before this time could turn up on compulsory college reading lists, as they still did on the compulsory reading lists for White Mountains summer families.
But now sounds. Music was constantly playing in the car. Willie Nelson and Carly Simon and James Taylor and Judy Collins. Also Mozart, who knew the lightness of being that I was only just beginning. Mozart (though not Beethoven, for right now I wanted gentleness). Sounds, not thoughts put into an alphabet. Sights, like what I was seeing in the city in the museums and galleries and cityscapes as well as parkway landscapes that I had not seen before – sights, not labeled things that could be looked up and checked. Feelings rather than maps showing the way.
Breaking out of times without music, without painting, without billowing trees, without parkways, without a car.