About three times a year I take a couple of days to visit my father and stepmother in Indio, a little more than a hundred miles from my home. The midway point of the drive is through a narrow canyon at the east end of a twenty-mile course of the 60 freeway that unrolls just east of Moreno Valley between Riverside and Beaumont, where the 60 joins Interstate 10. This part of the journey, like most of the trip, is freeway driving.
Usually I can zip along on a Sunday afternoon, but on this occasion as I entered Moreno Valley an electric sign read, “congestion until beaumont”. A couple of miles later there was a second such notice, and I grimaced and resigned myself to getting caught in a jam on a bright Sunday afternoon; the part of the freeway that was just ahead of me winds for about ten miles through hills on both sides with no exits, and I figured that there was no way to avoid the congestion.
Now, I don’t need the GPS to get to my father’s house, but on this particular day I entered the address just to see how the “estimated time of arrival” would be revised as I drove. After I’d resigned myself to getting stuck in congestion, I remembered an icon on my GPS that I’d never used before and could only guess what it meant. Still, guessing its meaning wasn’t difficult since the icon read “detour”. I wasn’t in a huge hurry, so I shrugged and tapped the icon. Immediately the GSP directed me to get off at the next exit: Moreno Beach Drive. An adventure had begun.
Even though there was no congestion in sight yet, I swung off the eight-lane concrete expanse and dropped down onto a road I’d never heard of. “Turn left,” the GPS electronic voice said, so I turned left. From this point on I was entirely under the direction of an electronic guide that depended on satellites I couldn’t see. I was on a well-paved but narrow road, and slowed accordingly.
Within a couple of minutes I was in rural country. After half a mile or so I was directed to turn right onto Ironwood Avenue, then left onto Redlands Boulevard. Five minutes from the freeway I was in a place where it looked as if things hadn’t changed for decades. It may as well have been the 1940s. Even the streetlamps had old-fashioned, bell-shaped hoods. Expansive meadows of gold, summer-dry straw spread out on both sides of the road. I met another car no more than half a dozen times on the detour. I saw no buildings of any kind.
Finally I turned right onto Oak Valley Parkway. On either side of the two-lane road there were low ridges of contoured land that rolled up into comfortable, partly barren hills. Patches of cottonwoods showed where there was probably a spring or a barely-moist streamlet. It was a hot, sleepy afternoon and almost nothing moved.
Simple signs, sometimes plain, hand-painted black letters on whitewashed boards, advertised entrances to ranchos whose buildings were out of sight beyond stands of trees. White fences enclosed some large fields where I expected to see horses grazing. They were probably not far away but I didn’t see any.
To think that this terrain was so close to my usual course to Indio, and had probably been little changed since before I was born, was an eye-opener. I drove with a sense of expanding wonder and pleasure, my eyes endlessly and appreciatively wandering over the land as a drove at a leisurely pace.
After half an hour or so, I came to the western outskirts of a newly-built tract of homes surrounded by a high cinder-block fence. The end of my rural drive was at hand, but even the cinder-block fence reminded me a little of the neighborhood where I grew up in the 1960s. After the tract my tires hummed along a wide, asphalted road that must have been a narrow country lane not long ago, and then I passed by tall shade trees just before I came to an onramp for Interstate 10 on the south side of Beaumont, about a mile northwest of where I would have joined the 10 had I stayed on the 60. If there had been congestion, I had bypassed it completely. The GPS worked beautifully, guiding me into a slow-paced, beautiful area that I would never would have sought out, never even would have known existed if I hadn’t been warned of that bane of modern living, a freeway jam-up. The country I traversed was close at hand and always had been.
I wonder… how much of life is like that? What do I miss time after time because I am too stuck in my ways, too much a creature of habit, too “hobbitish” to recognize or risk an adventure that is always at hand? I thought I enjoyed adventure, but now I wonder… I had to be forced into this one. I wonder some more. Will I now seek out alternate routes from time to time, or mostly stick to what I know? The physicists are right: there are indeed alternate universes less than a hair’s breadth away. God is in them all, and fills all of them, as always, with joy.