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Night Ride Home

  by Lindsay Stamhuis   (2005)  

The Gateway Literary Contest in Canada featured this runner-up for best short fiction (under 1500 words):

“Once in a while, in a big, blue moon, there comes a night like this ...”

Tonight is one of those nights, those perfect nights, where the sky is crystal clear, right up to the stars etched in the heavens. The breeze is cool and scented by wild roses and lilacs and evening stock. Over the rise of the moonlit field to the left of the highway comes the syncopated song of the crickets and cicadas, carried like pale moonbeams on a gentle wind that invites itself through my open window. The road stretches on to the horizon in front of me, behind me, and suddenly, I’m thankful for the solitude. People ruin things. And this is too calming, too ... right ... to be ruined by civilization. It’s just me, the breeze with the flowery perfume and the crickets.

This is how I remember our night now, how I’ll always remember it.

Joni Mitchell’s “Night Ride Home” fills the car. That’s my favourite song; and I can’t help but tap the fingers of my left hand on the steering wheel as my car hurries along the deserted highway. My right hand clasps a yellow manila envelope in my lap, making sure that the contents don’t slip out to the floor. I don’t even know the name of the highway I’m on—I only know that it leads home. Mom told me to take the Coquihalla from Vancouver to Kamloops, and then the Yellowhead the rest of the way to Edmonton, but I don’t like that route much. It’s secondary highways for me, all the way. I tell her that I do it to save time. It’s a lie, of course; that’s why secondary highways are secondary. I really take them for the scenery.

It’s your fault, you know. You got me hooked on the scenic route.

“ ... Like some surrealist invented this Fourth of July night ride home.”

“Our night” was during the summer we drove to Vancouver to visit your family. Do you remember? We were 19, I think it was our first summer together. On the way back home, we made this decision to drive the whole way overnight. We listened to Joni the whole way and you knew all the words. We tried to listen to every song but in the end we only listened to “Night Ride Home”.

“I love the man beside me. We love the open road.”

We had passed this field just outside of Edson. It was about three in the morning, and the sun wouldn’t be up for a few hours yet. Yet this field glowed. It looked like it was lit from beneath the ground, shining silver. There was this low hill right about in the middle of it, and on top, a stand of poplars had taken root and begun to grow. It was an average field; that’s what it amounted to in my eyes. But you pulled over and parked the car on the shoulder of the highway. I asked what it was, and you just pointed. I looked out the window, seeing nothing special. There, there! you pointed, and I stared and stared. What was so special about this place? Look at our fireflies, you whispered. Something clicked and I focused in on the poplars. There, drifting on the wind or maybe just caught in whirling thermal zephyrs, were hundreds of tiny poplar seeds. Caught in the moonbeams that lit them from behind, we both got the impression that we were witnessing hundreds of tiny fireflies dancing on the blades of grass. We knew better, but neither one of us wanted to believe that those tiny dancers could be anything less than ballerinas.

You grabbed your camera, got out to stand on the side of the road. The light was far too low for you to take a picture just holding the camera in your hands, but you had your trusty tripod with you, so everything was okay. You were so confident whenever you set your camera on that tripod. Who wouldn’t be? You could shoot anything from there.

I remember you climbing on top of the car, and me yelling at you to get down. You took at least five pictures after you set yourself up, quietly observing the magic as it unfolded. Capturing that stark image on the black and white film. Dating a photographer had its perks, but I think the biggest joy I had was in seeing those images that you picked through the viewfinder. The last photo you shot that night was my favourite of the five you took.

This was the picture you used.

And now, tonight, I’m passing through a field like that. This field, the one on my left ... it looks just like that first field. In fact, it just might be the same one. And I wish with everything I have that I could stop the car, pull over like you did, and see if I could catch just one firefly. If I did I know I’d never go home. But right now I need to go home. It’s started to smell like rain and I won’t drive in the rain anymore. You drove in the rain and you never came back home.

It’s been a long weekend.

“No phones till Friday. Far from the overkill, far from the overload ... .”

You sent off that photo to the scholarship people at the end of the summer. A letter arrived over Christmas that said you had been shortlisted, and in April a phone call told us that you had won. The awards ceremony was in Calgary on 4 July—a year, to the day, after you took the photos. I had to work that weekend, so your roommate went with you. I wanted to go so badly; I was so proud of you. It was $25 000, which would have covered most of your university tuition fees. You said that I deserved the credit for choosing the winning photo, that I deserved half of the money. I told you that you were crazy. But you kept pointing out that it was my choice to send that particular photo away. I’d been the one who’d done it. Chosen a winner.

You didn’t come home that weekend. There was a thunderstorm. They told me you probably had no idea what was happening; that’s how quick your car skidded off the highway.

“Far from the undertow, far from the overload”

I hate funerals. I had the good fortune of not having to attend one until this weekend, but I think I will always hate funerals because of this. But I have to admit, yours was pretty. You would have wanted someone to take a picture of the church. Medieval and gothic, covered in vines like those abbeys you see in postcards from tiny hamlets in England. The prettiest church in all of Vancouver, I heard one lady say as she dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. He would have liked it. The funny thing is, though I don’t know her at all, she knows you very well. Because she’s absolutely right. You would have loved it.

Now, Edmonton comes into view on the horizon. This hazy dome of light stretching across the line where the sky meets the earth; this is the city I live in. It feels like I’ve navigated the world and this is the city that I come back to every time. I press on, hoping to make good time. My eyes are grainy and I’m struggling to keep them open. Joni continues to serenade through the speakers.

“Once in a while ... .”

All I’ve got left to remind me of you is a faded manila envelope with your photos inside, images that you saw and captured, developed and printed. Looking at them is like viewing the world through your eyes, because this is what you saw. Each and every one of those prints is an image that you personally decided was too beautiful to go unnoticed. It’s a small comfort, knowing that I have a piece of you with me.

I clutch it tighter in my hands as I drive.

I don’t drive in the rain anymore because the rain took you from me. But I will still drive at night—all night—from Vancouver to Edmonton, whenever I get the chance. This night, the night I’m driving back from your funeral, it’s only the first in a long line of nights that I’ll travel through. I’ll drive straight on until the sun comes up over the horizon, as long as it’s Edmonton that I arrive in. I’ll keep driving, speeding along down the deserted highway, kicking up dust behind me and carving a path homeward up front. Ms Mitchell will always be on the CD player.

“ ... Like some surrealist invented this Fourth of July night ride home.”

Song credit: Joni Mitchell. “Night Ride Home” Night Ride Home. Geffen, 1991.

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Books (116 references)

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» Blackbird by Larry Duplechan
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» The Cloudspotter's Guide by Gavin Pretor-Pinney
» Come in from the Cold by Marsha  Qualey
» The Complaints by Ian Rankin
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» The Dark-Eyed Girls by Judith Lennox
» Demonology by Rick Moody
» Dig Infinity! The Life and Art of Lord Buckley by Oliver Trager
» Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris
» The Drifters by James A. Michener
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» High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
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» A Home at the End of the World  by Michael Cunningham
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» The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb
» How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed: A Memoir of Starting Over  by Theo Pauline Nestor
» Howl: A Collection of the Best Contemporary Dog Wit  by Bark Editors
» I, Lucifer by Glen Duncan
» Icarus by Russell Andrews
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» Inconceivable by Ben Elton
» Intimate Nights: The Golden Age of New York Cabaret  by James Gavin
» IPod, Therefore I Am by Dylan M.  Jones
» Izzy and Eve by Neil Drinnan
» Kalki by Gore Vidal
» Killer Cocktail (A Molly Forrester Novel) by Sheryl J. Anderson
» Kiss the Sunset Pig by Laurie Gough
» Lawnboy by Paul Lisicky
» Looking Back by Thomas A. Becker
» Love Me by Garrison  Keillor
» Lucky You by Carl Hiaasen
» Men May Come and Men May Go, But I've Still Got My Little Pink Raincoat: Life and Love In and Out of My Wardrobe by Gigi Anders
» Mercy by Jodi Picoult
» Mothers Are Dangerous With Knives (Moeders zijn gevaarlijk met messen) by Do van Ranst
» Murder at Cleaver Stadium by Douglas Lee Gibboney
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» The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon
» No Regrets, Coyote by John Dufresne
» No Touch Monkey! (And other travel lessons learned too late) by Ayun Halliday
» The Official Preppy Handbook by Lisa Birnbach
» On the Road with Bob Dylan: Rolling with the Thunder by Larry Sloman
» One Day by David Nicholls
» Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
» Other People's Dirt: A Housecleaner's Curious Adventures by Louise Rafkin
» Our Dumb Century: The Onion Presents 100 Years of Headlines from America's Finest News Source by Scott Dikkers and Staff of the Onion
» Paving Paradise by Craig Pittman and  Matthew Waite
» A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
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» The Quality of Life Report by Meghan  Daum
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» Rhymes with Useless by Terence Young
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» A Salty Piece of Land by Jimmy Buffet
» Salvo el Crepúsculo by Julio Cortázar
» The Science of Discworld by Terry Pratchett, et al
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» Shadow Tag: A Novel by Louis Erdich
» Shanghai Baby by Wei Hui
» She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb
» The Silk Road by Jane  Summer
» Sky Full of Ribbons by Marilyn Arnold
» Spadework by Timothy Findley
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» The Stand by Stephen King
» Take Another Little Piece of My Heart: A Groupie Grows Up by Pamela Des Barres
» Tea by Stacey D'Erasmo
» The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
» A Traitor to Memory by Elizabeth George
» True Enough by Stephen McCauley
» An Unfortunate Woman: A Journey  by Richard Brautigan
» Violets Are Blue by James Patterson
» Waist-high in the World: A Life Among the Nondisabled by Nancy  Mairs
» A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks
» Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? by Lorrie Moore
» The World's Room by Todd London

Films (46)

» 200 Cigarettes (1999)
» 9 1/2 Weeks (1986)
» After Hours (1985)
» Alice's Restaurant (1969)
» Almost Famous (2000)
» The Bridge (2006)
» The Brothers Bloom (2008)
» The Brothers McMullen (1995)
» Camp
» Changes (1969)
» City of Ghosts (2003)
» The Commitments (1991)
» DIVA (1981)
» Down To You (2000)
» Elizabethtown (2005)
» Fight Club (1999)
» Foxes (1980)
» Get Over It  (2000)
» Gone Girl (2014)
» Grace of My Heart (1996)
» High Fidelity (2000)
» Hustler White (1996)
» Into The Wild (2007)
» Just Wright (2010)
» The Kids Are All Right (2010)
» Laurel Canyon (2003)
» Life As a House (2001)
» Live Nude Girls (1995)
» Love, Actually (2003)
» Married to It (1991)
» Out of Sight (1998)
» Practical Magic (1998)
» Songcatcher (1999)
» Starting Out in the Evening (2007)
» Still Crazy (1999)
» The Strawberry Statement (1970)
» Swing Vote (2008)
» Switch (1991)
» Tarnation (2003)
» Truly, Madly, Deeply (1991)
» Two Weeks Notice (2002)
» Under the Cherry Moon (2004)
» Vanilla Sky (2001)
» Waking the Dead (2000)
» A Walk on the Moon (1999)
» You've Got Mail (1998)

Television (99)

» The 70s (2002)
» Absolutely Fabulous
» Alias
» Alias (2002)
» Ally McBeal
» Ally McBeal (2000)
» As Told By Ginger
» The Brady Bunch
» Brothers and Sisters (2009)
» C-SPAN White House Meeting & Barangrill (2009)
» Canadian Idol (2004)
» Catterick
» Chicago Hope (1996)
» The Chris Isaac Show
» The Colbert Report (2006)
» The Colbert Report (2008)
» The Colbert Report (2008)
» Dawson's Creek
» Design by Surprise
» Dharma and Greg
» Dr. Phil
» Ellen (1997)
» Emmerdale
» ER
» ER (2002)
» Frasier
» General Hospital (2006)
» Gilmore Girls (2003)
» A Girl Thing
» Grandeur et décadence (1986)
» Guiding Light
» Hey Arnold! (2007)
» I'm Alan Partridge
» Jam and Jerusalem / Clatterford (2009)
» Jeff Buckley
» Jeopardy!
» Jeopardy!
» Just Shoot Me
» Kathy (2013)
» Late Night With Conan O'Brien (Quentin Tarantino) (2005)
» The Late Show with David Letteman
» The Late Show with David Letterman
» The Late Show with David Letterman (1986?)
» The Late Show with David Letterman (2000)
» The Late Show with David Letterman (2000)
» The Late Show with David Letterman (2000)
» The Late Show with David Letterman (2002)
» The Late Show with David Letterman (2002)
» Melrose Place
» Melrose Place
» Melrose Place
» Mercy (2010)
» My Family
» New Girl (2012)
» Nip/Tuck
» Northern Exposure
» Nurse Jackie (2010)
» Once and Again
» Oprah interviews Julia Roberts
» Parenthood (2013)
» Providence (2002)
» Re:Covered (2002)
» Rose Parade coverage (2003)
» The Rosie O'Donnell Show  (2002)
» Saturday Night Live (2003)
» Second City TV
» Six Feet Under (2002)
» The Sopranos
» Southland (2009)
» Star Search
» Strangers with Candy
» Strangers With Candy
» The L-Word (2006)
» The Today Show (2005)
» The Voice (2014)
» The Wendy Williams Show (2013)
» Third Rock from the Sun
» thirtysomething (1987)
» thirtysomething (1987)
» thirtysomething (1989)
» Today Show interview with Mandy Moore
» The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (Goldie Hawn) (2002)
» The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (Louise Goffin) (2002)
» Tracey Takes On
» Two and a Half Men (2010)
» University Challenge
» The Vicar of Dibley
» Walk On By (2005)
» The Weakest Link  (2002)
» The West Wing (2004)
» When Hippies Ruled the World
» Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (2002)
» Will & Grace (2000)
» Will & Grace (2002)
» Without a Trace (2005)
» The Wonder Years
» The  Wonder Years
» The Wonder Years
» The Wonder Years (1992)

Plays (19)

Poetry (19)

» A Alejandra Pizarnik by Julio  Cortazar
» Bericht aan de reizigers by Ingmar Heytze
» For Joni by Kerry  Furber (Kezz)
» I Met A Woman In A Joni Mitchell Song by David Geary
» jammin' with joni by Terry 
» Joni Mitchell  by Joseph  Hutchinson
» Joni Mitchell Can Bite My Ass by Curtis Meyer
» Joni Mitchell, Coffee & the Rain by Carmina Gitana
» Learning the Hard Way by Jane McGuinness
» Libro de Manuel by Julio  Cortazar
» Lonely With Joni by Rebecca  Stang
» Pas de Deux from a Distance by Nora Maria Iancu
» Paved Paradise  by Heidi  Lerner
» Practical Water by Brenda Hillman
» Purr by James Servin
» Radical Sentimentality by James Sevin
» Somewhere in the Buddha Night by Lester Hirsh
» Upon hearing Joni Mitchell's Travelogue by Peter Tadd
» You Don't Know What You've Got . . . by Paula  Harris

Miscellaneous (75)

» 2nd Avenue Grill Drink  by Craig Silliphant
» Coyote Inspired Briefs & Bras by Marlies Dekkers
» My Old Man residing in Shangri-La
» A music store named Sharon in Maidstone
» Anna Quindlen column
» Ashley Judd in Reader's Digest interview
» Ben Whishaw: “I can’t write poetry. I’ve written love letters”
» A bench at Princeton
» A Bermuda tour boat narration
» Big Yellow Taxi - New Hampshire
» Big Yellow Taxi in a political column
» Bissell Commercial
» Capitol Steps Political Parody of Both Sides Now
» Cartoon in The New Yorker Magazine by Victoria  Roberts
» Celebrity Taboo - The Game Of Unspeakable Fun!
» CHUM-FM questionnaire
» Clean White Linen by Mark Aster
» Cloud Physics Course
» Coldwater Creek catalogue
» Desert Island Discs - Jack Vettriano
» Dirty Car Art
» Doonesbury by Gary  Trudeau
» Doonesbury by Gary  Trudeau
» Edie Falco in Watch! interview
» Esquire Magazine, July 2002 by Jeff Gordinier
» Extra-credit question for 5th grade students
» From a New Yorker article by Ian Frazier
» Graham Nash radio interview
» Guardian review of Partick McCabe book
» Hotel Isolabella OUR HOUSE Room - Trentino, Italy
» How Keith Richards Inspired Dr. Evil by Unknown 
» Jacksonville Transit Poster Art
» Joni mention on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Disk
» Joni mention on high rotation TV commercial
» Joni-inspired painting names by Jack Vettriano
» Ken Bruce's BBC radio show
» Lafayette Electronics & Larry
» Lorrie Moore in Reader's Digest interview
» Mermaid Café in Nantucket
» Metro interview with Adrian Edmondson
» Motorsport Journalism - Formula One Diary by Simon  Arron
» My prom date, the spy by Lisa Zeidner
» National Lampoon parody
» National Lampoon/Bernie's column
» New South Wales Higher School Certificate Exam  by Unknown 
» The Night Before Christmas by Bob Muller
» Night Ride Home by Lindsay Stamhuis
» NPR science show promo
» Obama Town Hall Webcam by Reginald  Cunningham III
» A paper from War Resisters International Triennial Conference
» Parade Magazine Article by Bruce  Feiler
» Parody of Woodstock
» Peggy Baker Dance Projects
» column by Cole Hamels
» Pop The Question: The Ultimate Pop Trivia Quiz Card Game
» Postcard for Common Good Planning Center in Rochester, NY
» Prop O poster in Paradise, California
» Radio 4 program about natural foods
» The Reptile Garden by Louise Erdrich
» A Sacrifice for Friendship, Chapter 3 by DS  Bauden
» A Sacrifice for Friendship, Chapter 5 by DS  Bauden
» political commentary
» Spaceship "Stardust" news story
» A Spray-painted cardboard sign
» Starbucks Calendar
» Stevie Nick's Moonlight Video & Wild Things Run Fast
» Summer music and drink suggestions
» The Laura Ingraham Show
» The Times of London interview with Brian Cox
» Tori Amos radio interview by Toyah Wilcox
» Tristam Shandy, A Cock and Bull Story by Steve Coogan
» Valentine's Day Editorial
» Whole Foods ad
» Windy City Media Group online interview of writer Paul Lisicky
» The Writer's Almanac by Garrison  Keillor

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