Stafford: Experience the beauty, mystery of a country drive

Tom Stafford

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Tom Stafford

Basements play a special role in my life.

They’re the place I can go whenever I need to forget things.

Things like why I went to the basement.

Well, last Sunday, after breakfast in Cedarville with friends, my car turned into a kind of auxiliary basement — with a double whammy attached.

By the time I buckled in and turned the key, I had forgotten the promise I’d just made to my friend Doug that I’d drive right over to his place to borrow a board he built for stretching out old hamstrings and heel chords. ( I own two of each.)

So, I turned left on U.S. 42, instead of right - and was blind-sided by that double whammy I mentioned.

You see, the good thing about a basement is that it’s a dead end - a place you go with a specific purpose in mind. It’s idiot-proof in that way: When you’re standing in it with no idea why - and the ductwork won’t tell you - you know you’re the idiot.

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Not so in the car.

It offers plenty of alternative actions, each as reasonable as the one you can’t remember you just forgot.

The alternative I chose was heading west to Wilberforce for a drive north on Wilberforce-Clifton Road.

Years ago, on a cold, damp day like last Sunday, I visited the late author Virginia Hamilton in her Yellow Springs home. She wore a colorful sweater against the cold and when I mentioned in idle conversation how special I find the countryside in this area, it struck a chord.

She said she found the area soaked in spirit of mystery, a spirit she felt said was connected with the local history of the Underground Railroad.

That spirit haunts the pages of her Edgar Award winning mystery, The House of Dies Drear,” a fictional house based on a factual house on the Underground Railroad.

For me, the mystery is somewhat different.

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Although Wilberforce-Clifton offers a beautiful drive at any time of year, winter is my favorite.

A right turn just north of town, and the road curves and plunges through a thickly wooded area of branching silhouettes. With the leaves off, the lay of the land is exposed, and a field to the right curves like a shoulder covered by a yellowish sweater.

Just above a bottoms, sheep seem to take on the color of the pasture, barns somehow stand upright on hills, and grain bins look like steely creations of the architect Jabba the Hut commissioned to do his place.

In the foreground, the earth is textured: Harvested bean fields look like 5 o’clock shadows, and the regular rows of corn field stubble bear witness to the routes left taken by the last grain carts and combines to work the fields.

Above, birds cut angles in the gray sky, separated from the earth by distance but connected to it, as we are, by all the elements in their bodies. Leafless trees stand guard along the banks of unseen creeks.

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I’ll pull the car over to the shoulder now for a little talk.

For all of us who love them, country drives have their own mystery, beauty and poetry.

I mentioned that my sense of it is slightly different from Virginia Hamilton’s. The reason, of course, is that we’re different people.

The key thing here is that we see these scenes not so much with our eyes as with our minds. Sure, the images come in through the optics of biology. But it is the mind that “sees.”

In a way, the drive along Wilberforce Clifton Road is cousin to cloud watching. Each of us sees something a little different on the tour of the landscape and our minds.

We attach different meanings, perhaps.

But it’s an experience we share.

And, to my mind, it beats the one in the basement.

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