August is the month we get to welcome new full-time voices to the post calvin! Please welcome Courtney Zonnefeld, who is taking over Cassie Westrate’s spot. Courtney graduated in 2018 with a degree in writing. She currently lives in East Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she is job-hunting and otherwise trying to define life after graduation. In her free time, she enjoys reading, baking, and saving up for more herb plants. You can usually find her wandering a farmer’s market, hunting for vintage books, or browsing the tea selection in coffee shops.
The middle of nowhere might not be the best place to live, but it’s a lovely place to drive. Between the rolling hills of I-80, my only companions are my Saturn and the even rows of corn and soybeans.
When I chose an out-of-state college, I also chose a road trip. The drive between Grand Rapids, Michigan and Des Moines, Iowa became a regular feature of my year, a fact of every holiday and visit. By staying in Michigan after graduation, I cemented those eight hours into my routine.
At first, I never drove the route myself. I found rides with friends and strangers and spent the hours napping, reading, or listening to music. Even once I had a car of my own to drive home, I never did the trip without company. I wanted a conversation partner, a DJ, someone to frantically handle the GPS if I made a wrong turn.
Before my first solo drive, my body tensed with anticipation. I couldn’t find a rider, so I set out from Grand Rapids on my own. I filled the car with music and tried to distract myself from the oncoming chaos of Chicago traffic. As I crossed the Illinois border, I powered down the sound and focused. Make a lane change. Make another lane change. Don’t get forced off. Find the toll station. Make the lane changes. Avoid trucks. Breathe.
And then—after all that hectic activity—all I had to do was drive. For five hours. On the same road. Beside a repeating pattern of corn and soybeans.
My next turn was over two hundred miles away.
I recently reread Fahrenheit 451, that old standard of reading lists, and found myself overwhelmed by the noise of Bradbury’s world. Montag’s home bursts with screens, his wife fills her ears with music, his subway ride resounds with slogans for Denham’s Dentrifice. As Montague attempts to read on the train, the words of Matthew 6 begin to mingle with the advertisements.
“Shut up,” he shouts at the radio above him. “Consider the lilies of the field.”
“Lilies of the field,” he murmurs.
“Lilies, I said!’”
Only when he leaves the train can he focus.
Perhaps I love the I-80 stretch so much because it forces me into silence. Into solitude. I don’t mind being alone, but I rarely spend that time without distractions. Even when reading, writing, or washing the dishes, I find some way to add sound—conversation, music, Netflix, podcasts, audiobooks.
I do the same for much of the drive, checking out audiobooks and saving podcast episodes for the trip. But by hour six, sometimes even those sounds have to be silenced. Even a good distraction can become dull. I tap my stereo’s power button and just drive.
And I start to notice things, things I might not have dwelt on before. I follow the ripples in the lines of corn, the direction of peeling paint on run-down farmhouses. I start wondering about the people who named these towns—who calls a place Prophetstown, anyway? Did a team of clowns establish What Cheer? How exotic can Moscow, Brooklyn, Montezuma, and Oxford be if they’re in small-town Iowa? And where’s Old Sharon, if this exit is for New Sharon?
In other moments these wonderings become quieter, more intentional. Silence can be a good home for what I call head-writing, the draft before the draft. And sometimes this solitude carves out a space for prayer.
These quiet five hours end the trip to Iowa, and they begin the trip to Michigan. They are a space between two places I can both call home. They belong somewhere between the familiar and the exotic, just habitual enough to anticipate. To shut off my music and to start listening for the lilies of the field.
Courtney Zonnefeld graduated in 2018 with a degree in writing. She currently lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she works for Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. In her free time, she enjoys reading, baking, and saving up for more herb plants. You can usually find her wandering a farmer’s market, hunting for vintage books, or browsing the tea selection in coffee shops.