Faith Gong: Beauty on the driveway

For the past 65 days, one of my lifelines has been a quarter-mile strip of sandy gravel. Its surface is mostly white, except for the places where we attempted to patch the potholes with cheap grey gravel. From the look of things, the potholes are winning.

My lifeline has been my driveway.

Our family has developed a daily routine around the driveway. First thing in the morning, while I’m fixing breakfast, my husband takes the dog for a run several times up and down the driveway. After breakfast, I strap the baby into a chest carrier and set out with my daughters for a single pre-school lap up and down the driveway — me walking, them usually on bikes. In the late afternoon, when the baby wakes from his nap, I put him in the stroller, put the dog on a leash, and walk as many laps up and down the driveway as time permits until dinner. Sometimes I’m joined by my daughters, sometimes by my husband, but often I’m alone. 

The driveway gives us exercise. It allows us to breathe in fresh air and soak in Vitamin D. It takes us to the mailbox, which holds the treat of letters from the outside world or packages of online purchases more often these days.

But the greatest gift that the driveway gives me is beauty.

Throughout 65 days of various degrees of quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been craving beauty, thirsting for it the way I thirsted for root beer during my pregnancies. And the wonderful thing is that I have plenty of time now to notice the beauty around me —- and it’s May, so beauty abounds.

Here is a sampling of some of the beauty on my driveway walks:

-The pale green leaves unfurling a little more each day, and the dark pink blossoms of the apple tree beginning to bud.

-The song of a red-winged blackbird as it swoops down from a tree.

-A white duck against our bright green, dandelion-dotted lawn.

-The symphony of frog songs, which has progressed from spring peepers to wood frogs to American toads, with green frogs now beginning their ascent. 

-Pink tulips, yellow daffodils, and white narcissi pushing up in our garden beds. 

-The sky, which is like an epic novel in the variety of its chapters and the story they tell: sometimes swirled with grey, or pale blue with wisps of white clouds, or painted the purple-gold-salmon of approaching sunset.

-The mountains, which, like the sky, seem to have an infinite variety of outfits, from brown to deep purple to gold to — the horror! — crowned with white on Mother’s Day weekend. 

-My children. It can be tricky to see the beauty in children at close range every day, when they’re constantly asking for things or squabbling. But on the driveway, I see my children with wooden swords tucked into bandannas belted around their waists as they speed away from me on their bicycles, off to save the world. 

The past week, my daughters and I decided to add a bit more beauty to our property by painting signs, all of which will be visible from the driveway. One sign reads, “Welcome chickens, ducks, and friends.” Another daughter painted a sign for our garden fence with a quote from Lady Bird Johnson: “Where flowers bloom, so does hope.” For a billboard-sized sign to hang on the side of our shed, the girls selected words from E. B. White: “Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.” And my youngest daughter painted an ugly outlet box on a post beside our driveway with her own design of a heart, flowers, butterflies, and the words “love” and “joy.” 

Love, joy, hope, welcome, and wonder. These words, chosen by my daughters after 65 days of quarantine, make me suspect that they, too, feel as I do when we walk the driveway. How many times have I gone up and down, up and down the same route in these 65 days? At least 390 times, by my calculation. And every time my spirit is restored with love, joy, hope, welcome, and wonder. 

The views from my driveway are specific to my little corner of the world, but I have lived in many places, and I was never unable to find beauty in any of those places when I had the time to look for it. Wherever you are as you read this, you have likely experienced some type of quarantine over the past months. Might I suggest that a partial cure for the spiritual and emotional exhaustion of quarantine is to carve out a time and place to notice the beauty that surrounds us? 

I am not suggesting this as a denial of all that is wrong in the world. Steeping our souls in beauty will never negate illness, death, sorrow, anger, or hatred. Those things are easily accessed; I need only check my news feed, or log on to social media, and my spirit feels heavy and my pulse starts racing. Then I know it’s time to walk the driveway again, where the beauty I experience is not so much an escape from reality as it is a “yes, and….” Because beauty is just as real as illness, death, sorrow, anger, and hatred.

It reminds me of a line from one of my favorite poems, Wendell Berry’s “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front,” which hangs on the wall in my combined study/laundry room: “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”

That’s not easy to do, especially at the moment when nobody knows all the facts. We are dealing with a new virus in real time, and all our projections, models, and conjectures are only vain attempts to obscure the one sure fact: We have no idea what will happen next.

When humans have no idea what will happen next, we tend to get scared. And because we don’t like being scared, we get angry. And because we need an outlet for our anger, we tend to direct it at each other. Which is exactly what’s happening now, as our brief period of self-sacrifice for the common good is replaced by nasty divisiveness.

When my children fight — which they do often — I tell them, “You need to work it out because you’re family.” In other words: Since you’re stuck with each other, you should live at peace with each other. 

That’s just as true on a global scale. We are all family; we share a common house. My driveway walks remind me daily that our house is stunningly beautiful. May we all endeavor to be worthy of it. 

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit director. She lives in Middlebury with her husband, five children, assorted chickens and ducks, one feisty cat, and one anxiety-prone labradoodle. In her "free time," she writes for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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Addison County Independent

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Middlebury, VT 05753

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