"The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing —
to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from —
my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing,
all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back."

~C.S. Lewis


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Gas station miracle

I suppose, to some, it would be a stretch to call it an adventure.

But it was to me.

It was just a gas station. A soundless Shell station on the south side of County Highway 22, with exactly six pumps, and it always had the lowest gas price of any station in the Chisago County area. Actually, I could never understand that, because it was out in the middle of nowhere, and if I were a greedy gas station owner, I would hike the price and force everyone to pay a fortune and then cackle happily over my piles of money.

But I wasn’t a gas station owner, and whoever owned this one apparently wasn’t greedy, because the place always had the lower gas prices on the highway.

And today I stopped there.

I’d always wanted to go simply on principle, because it looked like a pleasant place (as far as gas stations go), and it was inexpensive, and I’d driven past it many times—rather like the street vendor who offers you a newspaper so many mornings that one day you just buy it, because you feel obligated.

3 p.m. sun squinted through my filthy windshield (my grandmother would be scandalized, awful dirt), and the gas gauge was below ¼ tank. I couldn’t concentrate on account of this unforgivable sin, gaze flickering between snow-covered road and dipping gauge needle: it seems for as long as I can remember, Dad had told me to not let the gauge get below ¼ tank. Not in the summer. But never in the winter. In Minnesota, you could always needed gas, in case you got stranded or a snowstorm descended or you went <whoosh> out into the ditch because you were trying to adjust the radio and drive on ice at the same time and were stupid.

(Or because you needed gas for a car chase. That was my personal philosophy. Always have at least ¼ tank of gas so when the bad guys are after you, you can fly off on an epic 20-minute chase and still get away with time to kiss your true love.)

There weren’t any KGB agents behind me now, but I wasn’t taking chances, and my Shell station was up to my right. A few seconds later, the car is off, fuel cap wrestled away from its petulant hold on the car, and the pump is interrogating me: Shell rewards card? Zip code? Credit or debit? Car wash? Receipt? No. 55079. Yes. Good grief, no, do you know how expensive those are? Yes, duh.

But then, life switched.

Maybe you feel it sometimes; I’m getting more aware of when it happens. It’s when you suddenly look at the trees around you, and feel January through your jacket, and your necklace is cold on your throat, and you realize with a start, you’re in an adventure.

No one else is at the gas station, driven away at my approach—no people in a solitary place. The sun slants low, flickering branches with the magic of golden hour. The wind wakes up, and I am cold, but I don’t flinch, and the not flinching is important. A field (plowed, covered, waiting) is behind me, a forest (watching) in front of me, and it is strange. And new. And alive. And exciting and calling to something you thought you’d forgotten.

And the world is beautiful, with new life happening every moment, when you least expect it, if you allow yourself to feel when at a lonely gas station buying 9.4 gallons of $2.99 gas.