Freeway Aesthetics, Winter, Iowa

After two days of blowing snow and added sleet, a white, white world of purest white stretches out on both sides of I-35, glistening.  The sun, in the cloudless sky, is white too, as it slides down from the deep blue toward the pale blue, lighting up the sheathed tips of everything—the bushes in the culverts, the distant woods silhouetted against the snow, the windrow fences and roadside grasses and patches of cattails, all crowned with sparkling filaments of ice.  

This is a newly invented world, converted by some ingenious alchemist into a delicate and perfect replica of luminescent glass.  This is a new world of fiber-optic shimmering.  Even the corn stubble in the drifted fields—poking out of upended clods—even this has become beautiful so that it twinkles across the rolling swells, glittering brightest on the white crests, where the lowering sun keeps doing its remarkable White Magic. 

Sublime, I tell you. 

But when did that word fall out of style—and, with it, the notion of celebrating artistic expressions that were purely beautiful?  Something in the spirit of Thomas Cole or Albert Bierstadt?  Expansive, sunlit landscapes that fill the viewer with delight and awe?

Is anyone else noticing this wonder, I wonder, as I shoot south at 79 miles an hour, staying just under the ten-miles-over-the-limit that is guaranteed to result in a traffic ticket.  My son is waiting beside a blues bar in Des Moines, so there is no stopping, but when I look to the girl with purple hair who is also driving south, head bobbing to some unheard tune, I can’t help questioning whether she is seeing what I’m seeing?  Or the gray-bearded farmer with the tarped truckbed?  Or the lean Latino hauling a flagged trailer with an immense earth-moving machine that has wheels large as my Civic?  Are any of them feeling the same urge to break into song?  Are they wanting to call spouses and put it all in words?

I pass a tow-truck driver parked on the slick shoulder, preparing to winch a snow-clotted van out of the ditch.  He is up on the tilted bed, staring.  He takes off his gloves and lifts an I-Phone in the 9-degree cold, bare-fingered, aiming it toward that glistening scape, and when I look back in my rear-view mirror, he is still up there, balanced on the peak of that steep incline, arms raised, trying to capture as much as he can. 

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