Driving Highway 89 South from Pittsfield Vermont to the Manchester New Hampshire Airport, after a five-day writing retreat, the sky is cloudless and brilliant blue as only a glorious October day can be. The diamond-shaped yellow road sign “bridge freezes before road” keeps showing up. The statement feels like such a metaphor for life. We get little nudges to move forward or back, or sideways, and if we don’t pay attention- we get them again. It feels that this Vermont portion of the US Interstate is speaking directly to me as I momentarily press on the breaks and my red rental car picks up speed as we descend a hill and cross yet another bridge. There it is again. “Bridge freezes before road,” Four words very matter of fact.
It’s 64 degrees according to the car, the caretaker of the Inn said it’s usually in the 40’s by now, but not today, there’s no likely hood of it freezing as I cross. I sense that there is something here for me and a ¼ down the road the same diamond shape sign appears with one word, “MOOSE.” Below a tinier sign “stay alert.” This freaks me out on this narrow highway that at this moment hugs the cliff. I wonder where on earth the moose would come from and what the hell am I suppose to do if he/she does cross the road? This gal residing in Texas has no experience with this type of wild animal, I’m used to turtles or maybe an armadillo, I haven’t been trained in moose crossings.
I’ve seen one before in Sweden, when I was small, he was in the corner of a shallow pasture not far from the road, and he looked straight out of a John Bauer fairytale. I remember him with awe because his legs were so incredibly long and his antlers so broad. He looked otherworldly with the dim light of twilight creating a soft halo around him standing among the dense trees. I also remember being surprised by the sight of him because my mom backed up our car on the Swedish two-lane highway, she didn’t entirely slam on the brakes, let’s just say it made an impression her quick stop and then hurriedly backtracking.
What is it about these signs? I drive further and less than a minute later the same yellow sign, but now four letters spell “BEAR” underneath “stay alert.” I laugh to myself. What the hell am I suppose to do if a bear crosses the road? Shit. I dread to think of some poor soul returning home from a trip late at night and comes across a bear in her headlights especially on this highway with a bridge that freezes before the road and possible moose sightings.
“Stay Alert” hits deep since I left the lodge that was our writing home forty-five minutes earlier, and in our morning writing session, which was also our closing session, I realized that the book I thought I had come to write isn’t the one I am meant to write. I had been feeling that nudge a little bit each day in our 3-hour block. I loved the nurturing prompts that we did as a group, and the word games and partner stuff that would create beautiful images and a sentence or two of prose. I would look down at my written words and wonder where does that fit? I had become bored with the story I was writing.
Sometimes we don’t get what we came for, it annoys me, but that’s okay. My book structure and scenes that I wanted to get nailed down didn’t show up. This writing thing is slippery and elusive; it’s also fascinating and frustrating, something wants to come out, I know I’ve got something to say, it’s just not what I clamped onto and where I focused my attention this week. “Stay alert” resonates deeply. There is something around, under or within those two words, yes, I will “stay alert.” I reassure myself that it’s okay that I’m leaving without the treasure I came for. Staying alert is maybe the key to finding it once I am home.