Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Tunnel

It rained last night. The kind of hard rain that interrupts your sleep. All clatter and commotion. The downpours came on suddently and then faded, only to begin again. It was as if there were a giant faucet in the heavens and some giant hand were turning it on and off.
This morning's sun was golden on the shallow pools in the street and silver on the tiny leaves of the boxwoods that line the front of the house. It was to be a clear day with low humidity. Only a few tattered clouds remained from last night's storm and they drifted overhead like ill-shorn sheep grazing a deep blue sky. I backed the Prius out of the driveway with the GPS set for a street address somewhere in West Virginia. Driving through the Virginia mountains (the only way to get there) requires that you drive over the Appalachian mountains. Ocasionally it means driving through them.
"Turn On Headlights" the sign commanded. "Tunnel 1 Mile Ahead". Interstate 77 leveled out like a long runway and seemed to stop at the base of a huge mountain. Then a small black dot appeared that grew into a yawning black hole on a concrete face. As traffic whizzed closer to the hole, I wondered how long it took to build this modern marvel. I wondered how poeple got across this rise in the terraine before the tunnel existed. It must have taken them forever.
The black maw, with it's extended asphalt tongue, gobbled up the car and truck in front of me and then, suddently, I, too, was swallowed from sunlight into the tube's darkness.
An urgent voice from the dashboard said "GPS signal lost!" The little direction machine was troubled. It had lost contact with its orbiting triangulate god. How could it know that all was not lost and that in two minutes its programmed circuitry would reconnect with the three satellites and come to life again?
I don't know what it is about the Appalachian Mountains. To be sure the Rockies are great mountains. I can clearly remember some years ago driving west on the flat side of Colorado and watching the first glimpse of the Rocky mountains emerge purple on the horizone like a vast second sky. Magestic enough! But there is something special about these wizened hills that geologists say make up the oldest mountain chain in the world. That aside, I am a product of it all. Six generations ago one of my forebears left Bath NC toward the end of the Revolutionary War and struck out for the East Tennessee hills which lie in the heart of Appalachia. He had to leave under cover of darkness because he had picked the wrong side in that conflict. Now, without the threat of being tarred and feathered, he could get on with the business of fathering the next five generations of Bowens.
It was during this muse that the tunnel ejected me, along with a sputum of other traffic, out its other end. A rush of sunlight filled the car and the GPS burped to life. "Drive 45 miles," said the machine's cheery male voice. I looked at the small screen and saw that I was still in Virginia, approximately 100 miles northeast of the place along the Clinch River where my father was born. Charleston WV lay 200 miles and two tunnels away.

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