At first, upon leaving, there's the Jacques Cartier bridge, the city bathed in morning light below, the harbor with one or two big boats at the docks, the flat wide expanse of the canal. Then the long cloverleafs off the bridge and around to the south and west, with the old wooden rollercoaster at La Ronde over your shoulder, back onto the busy highway past the Bucky Fuller dome from Expo, the rows of skinny poplars along the banks of the canal, the line of commuters waiting to cross via the old Victoria Bridge. The city's skyscrapers recede in the distance, past the Champlain Bridge, now being rebuilt and surrounded by a giant construction site; the last of the tall urban condos with signs on their roofs, "Vue sur le fleuve," and finally the concrete and steel rapidly yield to trees, grassy fields, flatness, a huge sky.
It's early morning at the very end of October, and the light is tender: ravishing, really. The sky is a pale, slatey blue, dappled with an overall pattern of little clouds, and the soft light from the east washes over trees to which colored leaves still cling, fields that remain green. Two weeks ago, the color was as intense as I've ever seen it. Now the landscape is desaturated, but, to me, perhaps even more beautiful. Everything in the visual field has been turned down not just one notch, but several, and in this greying, filtered morning I feel no trace of the melancholy many seem to associate with the end of autumn; I love these softer shades of lavender and chartreuse and olive, russet and brown, mustard and citron; I like the sense of the earth sleepily yawning and putting itself to bed.
In the summer you always see tractors in these fields, or groups of workers bent over strawberries and beans; in the fall, big machinery harvesting corn or plowing or spreading manure, or a flock of geese or gulls gathering up the leavings. But today there's no human activity; just the long narrow arpents strobing past in the side window like measures marking off a musical score: this one still full of dry standing corn, this one grassy, here a woodlot, the next plowed and ready for spring planting. Far beyond, a house or two, a row of tall windmills, a blue tractor parked at the far edge of a field, a few orange dots that must be pumpkins left on the vine. Flocks of crows haunt the tops of pines; I see a Cooper's hawk that's after something, several big red-tails, and, far ahead, a single flock of Canada geese.
The roadsides have been planted with tall grasses, whose white plumey fronds wave in the wind. Their long stalks are pink, and suddenly the grasses seem like vast flocks of tropical birds on spindly legs, feathers ruffling, resting before a much longer migration than usual.
Maybe I imagine them this way because I, too, am leaving soon, or maybe it's just a desire to populate this landscape with something incongruous: a sign that its once-unfamiliar flatness has become familiar enough to engage my imagination, not just my eyes. I decide to delay my errand across the border long enough to stop and take some pictures, but by the time I exit the highway the light is already changing, the sun a little higher, a little harsher, and the poetry of the morning disappears with a flock of starlings that rise from a field, whirl, and vanish over the horizon.