News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

January 5, 2014

THE OFF SEASON: Seeing the miraculousness of the ordinary

An appreciation for the cosmic and the local alike

It was just a few nights ago that I announced to my wife that I was headed outside to watch the International Space Station pass overhead. Despite our having finished an early supper, it was already dark, and a fresh north breeze had brought that day’s unusual warmth to an end, the temperatures already down to the teens, the wind chills even lower. I grabbed a coat and scarf and gloves and left the house in a hurry, for the television weatherman had said just moments before that the treat would be short-lived.  

I hadn’t been outside long — just a minute or so — when I heard Joanie coming out the garage door to join me; she was already looking into an inky sky dotted with flickering stars, and Venus was showing off as usual to our southwest.

“Where do we need to look?” she asked, not knowing that I was smiling over the fact that she was beside me, as she most often is when I decide to walk out into the yard to see this or that. We are alike in that regard, easily entertained, country-raised, so birds at our feeder, a shooting star, a box turtle or flock of geese are sights we enjoy.

“Well, unless I’m mistaken, it’s right there,” I said, pointing northwest toward what I understood to be the brightest thing we could have seen in our night sky just then.

Without a blink, the silver point of light — a few sets of solar panels reflecting the sun in a way we couldn’t really understand since we stood in the dark miles below — moved steadily across the sky toward the eastern horizon. It took just long enough to leave us, traveling, I am told, at about 5 miles a second, to make my neck ache and my face red.

“Well, the show’s over,” I said after we took one more glance aloft and watched our breath create dewy clouds in the air.  

Until today, I had forgotten that night, for its ordinariness comes from years of practicing similar things. But the memory of it came back to me at about the same time I remembered meeting Christine Clark a few weeks ago. She introduced herself — her son, David, too — as I sat tucked behind a table signing books and sipping coffee at the Coffee Grounds in Brazil. She also added, “I thought you might want to know that I lived a good while up on Tick Ridge.”  

Of course, I knew of the place she spoke; it is, as the crow flies, no more than a mile or so from my house. There are other Tick ridges, as remarkable as it seems; one is near Waynesboro, Pa., another in Washington County, Ohio, and yet another is in Carter County, Ky. But, since I have written about the Harry Evans Bridge, which sits nearby, and of the time my dad ran his goat cart (you read that correctly) through a triangular-shaped patch of wild raspberry bushes on “Briar Hill” near there, she knew I knew where it was.

Christine is proof that sometimes stories walk in the door to greet me, for I was happy to hear of her days going to Coxville School and her memories of the huge pine tree that sat just outside her bedroom window, the sounds of the wind blowing through its needles still echoing in her head. She remembered how she and her friends relished a sip from a shared RC Cola, a bottle of which they bought because they could get more to drink for the money they pooled. She recalled how a friend, Rex Jukes, used to snatch buzzard eggs out of nests, and how he used to try to get his laying hens to hatch them. “He had a goose that chased cars, too,” she added. “It was the funniest thing.”

Christine also recalled the endless summer days when she and her friends played on the sandstone cliffs near Rock Run Creek, just north of her home in what was really just a little collection of clapboard houses in those days. Her father was a tenant farmer who made his home in a number of places, but above most memories, she remembered the Evanses and Jukeses and Virostkos who lived nearby, and the hard work and good times they shared together.  

As much as I enjoyed hearing Christine’s stories — similar to the ones told by parents and grandparents who grew up on similar ground — it was something else that she added, almost as an afterthought, that most stayed with me.

“We’ve taken the anticipation of joy away from our children,” she said. “Why, we used to all run outside to see an airplane pass over our house, just so we would have something to do. Children have too much now, and they always seem bored.”

She’s right, of course. We do seem to grow easily tired with the usual things, with the familiar and simple these days, and I’m not speaking solely of children, either. But, this is not a tirade against the hand-held, not a rant against connectivity and convenience and social media, but rather a realization that I need to seek in this new year the remarkable in the commonplace, for beauty in the everyday.

The British poet, Andrew Motion, says we need to “honor the miraculousness of the ordinary.” Christine Clark’s stories reminded me of that a few weeks ago, and looking up to the stars one cold winter night proves it to be true.

Mike Lunsford can be reached by email at, or c/o the Tribune-Star at P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN 47808. Go to his website at to learn more about his books.

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