Early each morning I turn east on Highway 9 and immediately shrink to a blip on the universe’s radar. If satellites actually watch cars passing down remote roads, I ‘d hardly be visible in my silver Toyota that blends in with a worn asphalt ribbon connecting one shrinking farm town to another. I’d show up as two tiny eastward moving light rays.
To help me see better, I hit my high beams and begin a journey bordered by KDOT applied parallel stripes. Even on bright, my headlights don’t extend much outside those margins, so I take aim and stay within their confines.
It’s easy to succumb to the monotony of a daily journey over a known road, but on shoulderless highways like 9, it’s wise to keep to the path. Too many accidents begin with a veer over that asphalt lip, followed by a corrective jerk of the steering wheel that actually sends the car out of control. Not wanting to become a statistic, I let those edges work like the guide on a sewing machine to keep me on the straight and narrow.
While the headlights focus mostly on the road between those strips and the calf scour yellow broken or continuous center lines, spilled light reveals tawny bluestem or waving brome outside those borders. My eyes continually scan that little Serengeti for bits of reflected green. This little tell may be my only warning before a car/deer collision.
I’ve been driving this route long enough to recognize distinctive headlights. A small car with only one headlight shining like a bright-eyed Cyclops meets me every morning about ten miles out of town. Though I wouldn’t know the driver if I met him or her, I recognize that vehicle’s familiar wink when I see it coming over a hill.
Ditch grasses stand as silent witnesses to passersby and kamikaze creatures that fling themselves into grills and under wheels. One morning, four raccoons had met their end in a thirty-six mile stretch. Sometimes, all that remains is an unrecognizable speed bump.
It isn’t just hitting a critter that gets a driver’s adrenaline rushing. Those near misses raise heartbeats as well. It took a few controlled breaths to still my own pump after a coyote raced in front of me the other morning. Lucky for him, he lived to eat another rabbit. If I were faster, he’d have been carrion.
Lowering speeds to 55 or 60 isn’t always enough to avoid wildlife between those white lines. One morning I dodged a buck sprinting across the highway only to run into a herd of deer up the road. I saw them soon enough to slow, but not soon enough to halt. One less doe will produce a fawn next spring.
In a world confined by dark edges, life between the white lines is more than a little exciting. Despite the narrow boundaries, adventure and thrills await.