Death on a two-lane road

Death on Ridge Road by Grant Wood

Driving to the Y this morning, I made my usual stop at the end of  Geiser Road before turning left onto Route 43. All clear, I thought. I glanced again – an enormous truck was barreling down the hill, hauling two trailers piled with gigantic logs. If I’d made that turn, I’d have been history.

I was on my way to Nia class. Late in that class last week, we were winding down with floor work when the instructor said “Strike a sexy pose and remember Harmony, who passed away recently.”

A shock wave swept over me. That Harmony? The one with the azure eyes, the dazzling smile, the drop-dead figure she liked to show off in skin-tight clothes? Yes, that Harmony. After class, I learned from the instructor Laura Bulatao that Harmony had been driving back from a workshop in Saratoga, when her car inexplicably swerved into the opposite lane and smashed into a pickup truck. Her given name was Elizabeth Martin. She’d been the author of a bestselling book, Over 30 6 Week All Natural Beauty Plan, and she was just one year younger than me.

At the end of the Nia class, as I settled into Savasana, the corpse pose, I thought about Harmony and how fragile we are. In mystery fiction, there’s usually a reason for death, no matter how warped or evil that reason may be. In real life, sometimes there’s no reason at all. 

The painting above is Death on Ridge Road by Grant Wood, who’s best known for American Gothic. Painted in 1935, it’s in the Williams College Museum of Art, a gift from Cole Porter, a Williams grad with exquisite taste. The museum makes an excellent day trip from Albany’s Capital District, and it’s free. And while you’re in western Massachusetts, check out the Clark Art Institute (fabulous impressionist and Winslow Homer collections) and/or MASS MoCA (avant garde art in an enormous old factory complex). The latter two are not free, but are well worth the visit. Seeing all three in a day is a bit much, but two out of three ain’t bad. 

15 thoughts on “Death on a two-lane road

  1. The Grant Wood painting, Death on a Two Lane Road, is an unforgettable image. Thanks for including it and reminding us of where the original can be seen.

    • Hi, Nancy, and thanks for your kind thoughts. I didn’t know Harmony very well, but she had told me about her writing – she’d published with Crown and had a famous editor, and had been on TV in California with fitness shows. Exactly the kind of person you don’t expect to die . . .

      As for the graphic, I’m glad you liked it – I’ve finally figured out how to include them, though it took me ages. I hope to do many more.

    • Hi Karen,
      I knew someone on BBT had studied with Debbie and Carlos, but I’d forgotten who it was. One of my NIA teachers is out in Portland this week, getting her brown belt at their center. It’s the only exercise form I’ve found that I’ve really wanted to stick with, because of the dance, spiritual and musical components.

      I just commented on your blog, but I forgot to say the quality of your recent blogs is excellent. Cheers!

    • My husband said he had an even closer call at the same intersection when we first moved here. He reminded me that those huge heavy trucks really can’t slow down, let alone stop, if you get in their way.

      Googling Grant Wood, I found some other landscape paintings with similarly skewed perspective, but they lacked the menacing quality of this one, which is my favorite painting in the Williams College collection.

    • You deserve the kind words, Karen. And I’m still going to add your link to my blogroll. Please keep reminding me if I forget!

  2. Life is so random. It also seems so…interconnected, yet so disconnected. I know folks who believe in, “Things happen for a reason.” I know folks who think life’s an exercise in chaos theory. You know, it’s funny, but sometimes it seems like both are true.

    Best Regards, Galen.

  3. Hi, Julie,

    I tried to send this via an mail link on your website, but, it got kicked back. I didn’t see an mail thingie on the blog, so, hop you don’t mind if I reach you this way….

    I was exploring your books, and came across a link to VirtualBookWorm. It looked very interesting. POD is the way to go. No question. I’m wondering if VBW and your experiences with them might make an interesting blog post, or series of posts. I’d be interested in hearing about it.

    Bt the way, do you have a link to your website from your blog, or the reverse? If not, might be a good idea to make one. I have one at the top of my blog, you simply make a new page, title it as, or whatever, and link to it. You’ll probably need a wp plug-in called.wait, gotta go look see what it is.”Page Links To.” Very easy to use. Once installed you find the form to link the page on the bottom of the specific page you wanna link.Easy.

    Thanks for your time, Galen.

    • Hi Galen, thanks for the info about my website. Though it’s still operational, I haven’t been using it much. My husband designed it a couple of years ago and it’s badly in need of updating. I’m hoping I’ll know how to do it myself by the end of the summer when I reissue Eldercide as Evening Falls Early.

  4. Julie — in January 2008, I attended a writing-from-art workshop at the Williams College Museum of Art. This Grant Wood painting was the subject of one writing exercise. I wrote a poem about it. According to my notes, the title of the painting hanging in the museum is “Death on the Ridge Road.” On my way to the museum workshop, I saw a car off the shoulder of the road. It had slipped on the ice (I presume) and skidded into a ditch. I won’t say that I was almost in the same real accident, but the event helped me to write the poem.

    • Yes, it’s a really powerful painting. In my footnote, I noted it had been donated by Cole Porter. Another wonderful painting he donated to Williams College is a beach scene (Coney Island, maybe?) by Paul Cadmus that features lots of beautiful men in skimpy bathing suits. As I said, Cole Porter had great taste.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s