COLUMN: "Driving into the sun"

This is my column for the Sunday, Feb. 21, 2010 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Driving into the sun
By Aaron J. Brown

Last year a woman described to me how her dad was worn down by the grind of commuting from the Itasca County portion of the Iron Range into the St. Louis County portion of the Iron Range. Locals know this means driving along an east/west line in a particularly wooded, iron tinted corner of northern Minnesota. This woman’s dad worked in the mines, like so many dads around here. She described that driving from the Bovey area over to the Virginia area every day for more than two decades eventually drove her dad mad.

You see, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west (I know you know that, but they teach us to write an at 8th grade level). That means that if you commute west to east you will ride into the sun every morning and ride back into the setting sun every evening. Have you ever done that? Ride into the sun both ways to work every day? That little eye shade in your car above your forehead stands like a stick in a gunfight, a tiny reminder of your inferiority to a giant, burning ball of gas some 93 million miles from Earth. This is a heavy truth when you hold noble earthy desires, like arriving at work on time without hitting deer or oncoming traffic.

According to this woman, her dad’s routine eventually caused him to tell her mom that he wanted to move the family east closer to the mine where he worked. And, further according to the woman, the mom refused. And her dad left the family. Ouch. I wonder if the sun was the only factor in this story. I think not, but I don’t know and therefore will not judge except in a way that ends in a question mark?

Back to the present. Technology has advanced considerably since this person’s dad drove into the sun. Windshields have more tinting at the top edge than they used to and Lord knows that sunglasses have made leaps and bounds, both in quality and in the ability of men to wear them without seeming like pothead hippies from the devil. And yet, there’s no arguing with the power of the sun.

I bring this up because I also drive into the sun to and from work most days. Driving from Itasca County into the central Range is like driving into heaven, or my version of it, and driving back is the same. You drive into this bright, stunning light and you can’t really see the road, not in the way you’re supposed to, and yet you know road is there, or at least it was last time, so you keep driving and, thus far, everything has gone just fine. I expect this will continue until it doesn’t.

This is a particularly grueling problem this time of year. With the sun rising before 8 and setting just after 5 most traditional day shift workers have to contend with at least one sunrise or sunset, maybe both. And it’s the over-the-road commuter who faces the brunt of this radiant glowing gas ball of luminescence, a light so bright it makes you turn down the radio. And in this season the sun rises earlier and sets later every day, a promise you can count on.

When you commute into the sun you are reminded every day that the silly routine of life is joined by the unchanging routine of the heavens. Even if blinded by the light you fail to reach your destination, you will – by virtue of those who tell the story – reach the future. That’s something worth remembering when you squint toward an unknown horizon. Light is always better than dark.

Aaron J. Brown is a columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Read more at his blog or in his book “Overburden: Modern Life on the iron Range.”

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