The sun was rising when we pulled out of the parking lot, shoulders hunched against the cold. But the hills stood tall and trees stood taller and we saw only the pink cast against the frozen sky.
He’s lived there for longer than I’ve been alive, this photographer who’s seen editors and reporters come and go but who’s still there. He wants a picture of the house where a man was found dead; I want details, or a chance to chat with neighbors. I’m tag-teaming on deadline, gathering color while another keeps the phone ringing at the state police barracks.
It’s a 30 minute drive, twisting between ridges, rising and falling. Mowed corn fields lay on either side of the road, dry stalks standing out of thick snow, rising the gentle slope to the tree line, where the ground goes up suddenly.
A turkey flew out of that field once, the photographer tells me, smack into his windshield, shattered it.
We don’t see any turkeys this morning.
The house is set back on a quiet road that backs into a dead-end at the back of school property. A swing set is buried in snow in the back yard, the basketball hoop stands quiet, fragments of an unused net hanging from the frame, a testimony to the boy that’s grown. The dead man’s car is parked outside his garage; steam or smoke rises from a chimney pipe; a lamp is on in the front bay window.
If it weren’t for yellow police tape around the perimeter and the sleepy police officer going through paperwork in the cruiser parked on the edge of the road, I couldn’t have guessed.
He snaps his pictures, view obscured by the huge trees in the front. I chat with one neighbor, our breath white on the frozen air. Every other house is dark and quiet, closed tight against the cold on a holiday morning. And I notice their size, and newness, and I’m surprised to find these emblems of wealth in this corner of a rural, generally poorer corner of state.
We pass two coal trucks on our way home, as the sun rises high enough to crest the hills and shine brilliant against the snow. There was a bad accident here once, he says as we head up one long slope into the sunlight. Sun probably played apart. We watch the dusty trucks as they pass, and the way seems faster.
We’re closer to deadline, so maybe he’s driving faster. Right at the highway, across the tracks I’ve never seen used, left when the highway splits off and we start up a hill into Indiana.
And the sun is blinding but I love it, soak it into my soul from the warmth of a heated four-wheel drive vehicle, enjoy every second before I head into the windowless newsroom, before the snow comes back tonight.
The sun is setting now, in that same haze of pink in the frosted sky.