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Sometimes, when I can’t sleep, I’ve taken to saying to myself, “It’s all right, I’m comfortable, my feet are warm, I’m not expected to be doing anything.” And that’s enough. I smile, listen to the creaks and heat-thumps of the house, and then I sleep.
Other times, when that doesn’t work and the worries that everyone has creep in, I lie on my back, close my eyes, and visualize a long drive. A very long drive, trying to picture every stretch of road. From St. John’s, out the Ring Road and past the Galway overpass that isn’t there yet, past Paddy’s Pond, all the way to Conception Bay North or Clarenville. You get the picture.
That works even better than just being warm and comfortable — it takes a little bit of attention to stay on track, enough to drive the other stuff away, but it flows, mile by mile, and once again, sleep arrives.
I think the biggest part of it, the most relaxing part, is the motion, the going places.
I love the road. Burnt Cape on the Northern Peninsula, the western desert in the United States, the flatlands and long fields of Manitoba — there’s something about being on the road that just charges me up. It’s like everything that’s different activates all my senses, as if all of the things that change from place to place — differences in colours, in sounds, in smells, even in the dryness of the air — are keys in small locks, opening doors that you notice because they’re new, and that lock into your memory because of that differentness.
Outside is a damp misery: inside is what you’ve experienced all winter and are tired of now.
The smell of western pines, in Alberta or British Columbia — the almost feral funkiness of them. The blue-green of the cone-shaped, low California cedars as you come out of the Nevada desert, the way they start to populate the hillsides as you move out of the long, even ranges of the desert sage, the sage that seems to always know how to reach and match its neighbour’s height, so that great long expanses of it stands at exactly the same height — sometimes to your knees, sometimes your waist, and very rarely, your shoulder.
There is just so much to see in this world, in this country, in this province: I sometimes think that this is the absolute worst time of year, when we’ve all been pinned down by the freeze-thaw that makes nothing possible. Outside is a damp misery: inside is what you’ve experienced all winter and are tired of now. Even winter pursuits like cross-country skiing or snowshoeing can’t break the melting monotony.
It’s times like this that I wish I could convince someone to just send me on the road. Send me on the road endlessly, so that I could do that thing that some writers have managed to do for a living: to condense all the sorts of experience that there are on the road and beam them back to others who might find them interesting, or might want to read about and then do something similar themselves.
I can tell you about a narrow-aisled hardware store in Placerville, Calif., that’s the oldest hardware store west of the Mississippi. About the way pinecones as big as your two fists pressed together sit on the side of rural roads, dripping gems of sap, ignored by everyone who passes. About the feeling when black walnut trees shift in the wind, the hard rap of the walnuts hitting your skull.
And that’s the other thing I do when I can’t sleep, and even making the mental drive to Carbonear doesn’t help.
I conjure the things I’ve loved and still remember and try to cycle through all parts of them.
And smile in the dark. And sleep.
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Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 36 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org — Twitter: @wangersky.