Family business has kept me on the road this month, shuttling between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, west to Acadiana, north to Natchitoches. Long drives through Louisiana in September mean hours behind a windshield flecked with white — the leavings of lovebugs smashed to oblivion in the midst of carnal bliss.
Lovebugs — those little black insects that fly around in pairs, hinged together in courtship — are as much a part of early autumn here as football and hunting season, though not as welcome. Somewhere around Alexandria, after miles of managing the kamikaze attacks of one lovebug swarm after another, the glass in front of my steering wheel looked like some peculiar pointillist painting. A thousand greasy dots detailed the destruction of multitudes smashed two-by-two, as if they were preparing to board a biblical arc.
I flushed the windshield with wiper fluid and swiped the blades, which was about as helpful as cleaning up a mud slide with a dish cloth. When I stopped for gas, a woman at the pump beside me had borrowed a squeegee and was scrubbing the lovebug-littered windshield of her family pick-up as furiously as Lady Macbeth. Her husband, resigned to the futility of fighting an Old Testament plague, sighed as he filled up the tank.
On the long drive home, I thought about the irony of creatures so distracted by the rapture of reproduction that they fly in the path of a speeding car. Maybe rapture is the right response to early September in Louisiana, when the days can seem like a reward for running across the hot-coal agony of August.
From the open highway this month, despite clouded windshields, the view looked brilliant — the sky as flawlessly blue as willow china, the clouds as billowing and white as the sails of a storybook frigate. Just last month, afternoons routinely brought skies black with rain, the storms sometimes so heavy that driving was a penance. But with September, for the most part, the horizon has cleared and brightened, yielding the cheerful boredom of perfection.
Parting the bedroom curtains last weekend on the first cool Saturday of September, I noticed…
“This is exactly the kind of day we had on 9-11,” I told my teenage son as we drove north this month through a postcard-pretty afternoon. He was an infant when a beautiful fall morning in Manhattan became a national nightmare, but he knows the history well.
The tragedy left its lesson — that even a blandly beautiful day can quickly change, that autumn’s daily deposit of dull little blessings isn’t to be taken for granted. This autumn rests in the shadow of more recent losses. Hurricanes here and terror abroad have sometimes made me feel hapless for embracing the ecstasies of fall — as foolish, maybe, as lovebugs blind to their own mortality.
But fear seems a faint answer to autumn’s glories, and it’s somehow off-key, I decided, to greet an open sky with a furrowed brow.
The best response, I guess, is gratitude.
Follow Danny Heitman on Twitter @Danny_Heitman.