The ‘Scenic Highway’ sign brings about an overwhelming goodness of heart; a promise of something worthwhile; a yearning for the treat ahead.
Nuts? (Absolutely – especially near the symmetrically placed Almond plantations on Californian highways.)
Cuckoo? (Of course! Who wouldn’t be to the musical trilling of the birds?)
I poke my head out to inhale the scent of fir, pine or eucalyptus, only to be chided by the children. Amma – stop that! It is cold, or it is hot or it is windy. I try to look repentant, but the joy in my face is a give-away. I become a child collecting wildflowers for the vases that spot every side table in every room in my childhood abode again. The same vases that the father used to roll his eyes at before gingerly moving them out of the way, for they had a tendency to fall and spill onto his ubiquitous newspapers. These tastefully collected possums of wildflowers, interspersed with pine or fir with a sprig of Eucalyptus is joy in a vase. I never learnt the art of Ikebana but my grasp and plonk technique gave me as much joy.
Even on days when childhood woes and worries weighed heavy on the mind, a saunter in the hillsides with a wildflower bouquet in my hands was enough to get me looking at the world benevolently again.
Adulthood has cured me of this eternal optimism and benevolence, but it has had no luck when it comes to the joy nature can give me. I still potter about the neighborhood sniffing at primroses, admiring cow-slips, and reveling in the wild grass as it pokes its shoots out of the cracks in the pavement. I don’t know the names of the wildflowers, but when I see a squirrel sniff at one, it doesn’t seem to matter whether one knows the name of the flower or not. On road trips, I relish the beauty of the highways, the trees and flowers beside the highways, and thank Earth for its natural bounty.
Little did I know that I really needed to thank Lady Bird Johnson for this bounty in USA. Having grown up in a small town in Texas, she enjoyed nature and its calming influences first hand. When her husband, Lyndon B Johnson, became President, one of the things she did as First Lady, was to get the Highway Beautification Act underway.
The nation was still pained at John F Kennedy’s assassination, and she wanted to cure the nation with the remedy she knew best. Natural beauty.
I am grateful to Lady Bird Johnson for this foresight. I belong to the class of people who derive spirituality from Nature, and wholly agree with the feisty Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery.)
“Why must people kneel down to pray? If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d go out into a great big field all alone or in the deep, deep woods and I’d look up into the sky—up—up—up—into that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then I’d just feel a prayer.”
The next time you see a scenic highway stretch out like a wondrous ribbon unravelling itself from its spiel, send a wave of gratitude out to the thriving beauty of life out there, and the person(s) responsible for it.
Beautiful highways are not a quintessential American feature either. There are accounts of beautiful tree lined roads, hugging mountainous roads with marvelous vistas, roads by rivers and through deserts, built as early as 300 BC. The most famous ones I can think off are the Silk Road(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silk_Road), and sections of the Grand Trunk Road (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Trunk_Road)
“The world calls them its singers and poets and artists and storytellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland.”