I drove the long way home tonight with the top down on my car, and somewhere between Crab Orchard Lake, along Spillway Drive, before I got deep into Giant City State Park and wound my way through the Shawnee Forest, it occurred to me that my current life very much resembles what I used to get to do only occasionally on great vacations.
All my adult life, I've sought the same things out when I needed to relax and recharge ... solitude, lush green landscapes, trees, bodies of water and driving along hilly winding roads with great music on the radio.
It used to require an airline ticket and a rental car to get to. Now it requires walking out my front door and turning the key in the ignition.
It used to be almost painful to find one of these places, because I could never stay. It was a vacation from my life ... a few days or a week of trying to soak it in and memorize the smells and the way the air felt and let the landscape burn itself onto my retinas so I could call it up as a great memory later.
In the year I've been here I've known that I love it, and I've known that it's pretty, and I've known that it feels more like home than anywhere I've ever been, but I guess I never had the exact realization that I'm living in a state of pretty much permanent vacation bliss. I can't understand why the whole damn world doesn't live here, but I'm exceedingly glad they don't. Don't get me wrong, world, but a large part of the charm here is that it hasn't been paved over, subdivided, franchised, pruned and trimmed to within an inch of it's life or overrun with civilization.
It's normal here for a 30-year-old mobile home to snuggle up next to a half-million-dollar showplace without anyone batting an eye. What you won't find are HOA's, CC&R's, planned and gated communities, stacked freeways, smog, bumper-to-bumper traffic, piles of trash along the side of the road, high rises, luxury condos or the "wrong side of the tracks."
Last summer I experienced having the vague notion that there was something I wasn't seeing here that I ought to be seeing, but I couldn't put my finger on it. Then, I realized what it was. Airplanes. I used to live in the flight path of Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix. I doubt there was ever a fifteen minute period in thirty years when I couldn't look up and see at least two or three airliners in the sky. I haven't seen an airplane other than the rare crop duster in over a year. Today I realized the other thing I don't see here. Billboards. It's sort of amazing to me that I didn't notice that before.
So, it's not earthshaking or funny or thought-provoking, but that's what I felt like saying today. I love Southern Illinois, and you'd have to shoot me and drag me away to get me out of here.
I don't know how many people leave their offices at 5:00 and achieve bliss by 5:30 just by driving home, but I suspect the world would be a better place if everyone could.