It had snowed the night before. It was a cold spring day, and we were headed up the NY Northway from Troy to Plattsburg for a college interview for my son. The sun was making fitful attempts to come out from behind the snow clouds.
When we passed out of the morning traffic coming down from Clifton Park and approached the edge of the Adirondacks, the traffic suddenly slowed. Flashing traffic signs told us to use the left lane. We crawled along for a mile or so until we came upon the scene of the accident.
As we passed it, the police were just pulling a pickup truck up the bank. Most likely the poor driver had fallen asleep and gone off the road. I could see the white air bag that had exploded in the truck. It had a red splash of blood in its center, in a pattern of a squashed spider.
News crews were pulling up to the scene. Was this another fatality, one of the forty thousands every year on US highways? For the passing traffic, this was a moment of curiosity and thankfulness. It wasn’t me. It wasn’t us. Now we can return to 65 mph and get on our way.
We cruised past Glens Falls . My son had fallen asleep in the seat beside me.
He was missing a truly spectacular morning on the highway. On both sides the evergreens loomed over us, frosted with fresh spring snow, looking like giant Bing Crosby Christmas trees. Behind them, the Adirondacks reared up, pure white, shining with winter’s last gleaming.
I would have like to have stopped and taken a few pictures of this pure, ever so transitory Adirondack scene, but time pressures and fear of stopping on a Northway shoulder inhibited me.
I settled into the driver’s long distance mode, car on automatic pilot, sailing along at 67 mph, just slow enough to stay under the occasional State Police radar.
A blue van passed. Official Military Funeral Vehicle. Somewhere up ahead, in some small upstate New York town, a young soldier, not so different from the eighteen year old sleeping beside me, had returned from Iraq. But he, or she, like my sleeping son, never saw this beautiful morning, this early spring snow in the Adirondacks. The last thing he, or she, saw was the brown desert vistas of Iraq, lined with palm trees, not snow-covered pines.
We were still more than an hour out of Plattsburg. The road, like my son’s college future, rolled out before me. I hooked up my MP3 player and started the music.
It wasn’t my son’s funeral. It wasn’t my family. It wasn’t us. Was it?