The interstate is closed. A detour sign sends my car creeping along a narrow country road crusted with snow. Evening is coming soon. I am somewhere on a nameless midway on my route from Nashville to Atlanta. The horizon is a low-hanging blanket of clouds, ready to drop silently over the fragile bone-bare trees edging the fields.
I seem to be the only living soul in this strange place muffled in white, every twig outlined in an icy chrysalis.
A bend in the road brings me to an apparition – a red barn glowing like a jewel in the snow. It looks unearthly, and despite my feeling of unease and the oncoming dark, I can’t help but pull off the road to take a picture. I know someday I will paint it.
“Maybe this was the real destination,” I think to myself.
It would not be the first time in my life that a detour in the road turned out to be the destination. In my mind’s eye, memories sift like images in a kaleidoscope. I see a picture of my husband Michael as a young man, laughing, taking both my hands and pulling me away from my textbooks in the library, to “come take a break.” I am laughing, trying to resist, but he is persistent.
Michael was a detour – a young man from New York who I met one night when he was visiting his brother on campus. A canceled flight, a date, a long distance relationship for three years until we were married – and now 30 years of marriage.
Michael was a surprising twist in a life that was already mapped out: marriage to a staid hometown boy, life in a small Midwest town.
The kaleidoscope shifts again, and I see an old house standing vacant in downtown Woodstock. I see the faces of Shawn McLeod, a near stranger and fellow artist downtown, and Gay Grooms, the mercurial artistic director of a local community theater. The three of us are walking around the old house. We are agreeing it should be saved, become part of an arts center to include a theater and gardens, and our flights of fancy paint all the pieces bright in our imagination.
Another detour – serving on an arts center board with the Elm Street Arts Village while I had my artist’s studio downtown, the work of the group often pulling me away from my easel.
It seems to me, as I look at my life, that it has often appeared to be a journey of detours, not planned destinations. I am envious of people who plan their lives and then single-mindedly pursue their goals, plotting their life course like a captain through the seas.
But in my life, I find that much of what has been good and important started with what seemed to be a detour, which only later, could I see was the real destination. And so, I set my easel down where I have landed, working to paint the scene at hand, and create of my life something I hope is beautiful.
By Ann Litrel, contributing writer and artist. She lives in Woodstock with her husband Dr. Mike Litrel and their two sons. firstname.lastname@example.org