Even when it seems to me that there are lots of cars here, there aren’t really lots of cars. They meander past heading to one direction or from the other, minding their lanes and watching their speed. The men of the morning pull into the gas station to fill up their trucks and their gas tanks, to power their days of digging or plowing or cutting and clearing. They do this every morning while I sit here and watch it unfold. It’s always the same. The seasons change, the white I see now will be greenish and brown by next week, but who knows what the week after that brings. It might be snow or it might be rain, or it might be double nickel and sunny, there’s no way to know. The sky today is soft and blue, the air still. There’s a storm of sorts brewing on some plain somewhere, but it isn’t here today, so the men fill their gas tanks and I sit and type. Every day.
It might be that the world sees this as boring. That my life, here at this keyboard and there in the seat of that car, and later in front of a fire, that this is somehow boring and unexciting. They see this place, this Wisconsin and Midwest, and they wonder what it is that we do here, and why we choose to do it. There is so much more out there, they say, mountains and oceans and different people and different cultures. There is more out there, more than there could ever be here. This is why kids grow up in Williams Bay and then, in large numbers, kids move from Williams Bay. They move to small cities and to large cities, they move to other countries or to other counties, they move places where they can see different things and learn about different ways. They spend time here in this incubator and then, when ready, they catch the first flight to somewhere else. Only later do they wish that their somewhere else would be a little more like this place.
It’s not hard for me to be thankful. It’s hard to act in a way that proves it, but it isn’t hard to think it and to understand it. This life is a privileged life. I do not toil in salt mines, though some days I think it would be better to do so, because at the end of a day I’d have a nice, large pile of salt and someone would come by and commend me for my incredibly large, magnificent mound. I do not travel across the country weekly, missing my family and selling something to someone, sleeping on hotel mattresses and eating continental breakfasts of Fruit Loops and microwaved eggs. I live four miles from this desk, and in the morning I wake and drive with my kids to the East, two miles. I drop them at their small school, they walk down the sidewalk the same way every day, though some days my daughter dresses like an Indian and my son carries the weight of a basketball game loss on his still young shoulders. I drop them and drive out of the lot, passing people I know, heading still to the East, another two miles to my office where this long desk and small keyboard await. If I drove another sixth of a mile to the East, I’d find myself in the lake. My entire life plays out along one four mile stretch of road, and for that, I’m thankful.
The kids who moved far from here a long time ago will be back in town tonight. They’ll drive the routes they know, marvel at what has changed and remark that nothing has. They’ll tell their kids about their old school, about their old hangouts, about the old baseball fields and basketball courts. They’ll tell stories of school operettas and foursquare lunch breaks. They’ll spend some time here and then they’ll leave, and on Monday I’ll drive four miles to this office, which is one half mile from where I grew up, and I’ll be thankful that nothing has changed.