Is this a safe way to drive? So far I have not crashed. At least I’m not aware of crashing though on occasion the rumble strips so ingeniously devised by roadway engineers caution me back to my task of driving.
Today’s sky is powder blue with thin wisps of clouds defining a day of warmth and fair weather. The horses of this morning had again brought joy in my connection with a horse named “Killer.” At 38 years, he no longer was his namesake, but he had passed his skills on to his pasture mate who attempted escape from the threat of me and my equipment. But in no time I had passed his inspection as he had stood motionless and accepting of my trade. Life was good.
My driving skills and survival on countless miles of driving depends on pattern recognition. Many people think that the brain and the computer are similar, but they aren’t even close in the way they “think.”
Computers are developed to say “yes” or “no” to billions of questions asked of it. With faster computers, more questions can be asked and answered. This is why driverless cars are now becoming our future mode of transport. Yet when a question either isn’t asked or if the wrong answer is given, a disaster occurs as it did for the driver of a driverless Tesla who died as his car went under a turning tractor trailer.
Humans (as well as all mammals) use pattern recognition to filter out the similar things in our life and alert us to differences. This is why we can pass dozens of strangers in the mall until we suddenly see a one eyed monster. Our pattern is interrupted and we “see” the different life form. This is also why we look at crippled and deformed people with an unusually long stare until our sense of civility takes over and accepts the sight. It is why we rubberneck as we pass an accident on the road. It is also why we see a cut on a horse because the pattern of smooth skin is interrupted. By the way, it is also why we don’t recognize what we don’t see such as the sharp edges of the cheek teeth forming painful ulcers within the mouth of the horse.
The reticular activating system (RAS) of my brain filters out the unnecessary information such as the pressure of the seat I am sitting on. It filters out the unnecessary road signs and even the road itself. The rumble strips interrupt this numbness bringing my attention back to the road.
Today’s drive was through the cotton fields of Georgia. Cotton combine machines traveled the narrow roads taking up more than the width a vehicle is allowed and moving well below the speed limit. Flat bed semi trailers passed loaded with 7 large round bales of white cotton wrapped in bright yellow plastic wrappers. Passing fields of little white plumes were separated with fields of brown stubble. Escaped clumps of would-be cotton shirts and dresses were scattered over the road run over by the occasional vehicles driving with me today.
Suddenly my RAS woke me from my bliss. Something strange was in the road. Large, round and dark, I strained my thoughts to make sense of what it was. Before I could identify it, my mind was calculating if my truck was tall enough to pass over it without damage. It told me yes and I braked but too late as I sped over the object. My last thought was the recognition that the lump was a large turtle. I braced for the sound of impact and my stomach churned at the thought that I had taken the life of an innocent sole sunbathing on the warmth of blacktop.
There was no sound or vibration. As the truck slowed to a rapid stop, I peered into my mirrors. As far as I could see, there were no cars in either direction and the lump remained as I had seen it. My truck immediately went into a 3 point u-turn as my imagination asked what it was like to be minding my own business and then come so close to a violent death.
The truck came to a stop on the grass margin next to the very large turtle – large enough that if it wanted to, it could bite my boot and I would feel it. I cautiously approached it as two vehicles appeared in the distance. I tapped his hind end with my toe. I have never seen a turtle move so fast. Partially turning towards me, he (or she) began a rapid excursion towards the larger part of the road and towards the underside of my truck. As the cars approached and time to avoiding a catastrophe shortened, I continued to tap him with my toe. Each time he scurried for a short distance, slightly turning towards me and fixing his gaze first on me, then under my truck. As the cars came to pass me, he laid motionless underneath my truck.
I spoke to him with contempt, “You are the dumbest turtle….” I jumped into the truck and prayed he didn’t move and drove forward making another 3 point u-turn on the empty road. As I drove by him I saw he was alright. But reptiles have emotionless faces to me and so I didn’t know if he was in shock, was grateful, or was still in defense mode. I’ll never know. But I do know that I may have allowed him to live another day. Anyway, as I passed him I shouted out my window, “Find another place to sunbathe buster!”
I tried returning to being in the moment. The mellow music played and the road and sights passed on. I thought of the difference I had made in that turtle’s life but how it could have gone differently. I settled for the shear enjoyment of traveling on back country roads and the adventure it brings.