Funny thing about hotel rooms, they only have two moods about them. One is peace and the luxury of time away from everything. The other is the black hole abyss of being caught inside a black box with a loudly-ticking clock. I used to think I was the only one who felt this way about them. Then I asked a friend—the CEO of an International Publishing Conglomerate—if he ever was conflicted when asked about going to dinner while out of the country, and he said, “Oh, you’re talking about those black-hole nights in hotel rooms.” I felt so much better. There was some hope in knowing that it wasn’t only me who faced this approach-avoidance feeling.
This was Room 6 of 8 in a place called the Wood Post Inn. I found it on a back road that was trees and hills a long way from any town larger than 1000 people. The room was standard motel issue—concrete floor, stained outdoor carpet, window a/c unit that won any argument with the volume on the television. Two magazines on the Walmart coffee table—a TV listing from the newspaper and a What’s Going On! magazine that had my picture checking in on the cover. My arrival was the news in these parts. That idea only added to the empty feeling. I took a shower. I tried a nap to outsmart the grey November feeling the surroundings pressed upon me.
It didn’t work. I read a book to fall asleep, but even the book knew that it was a bad idea. Each page kept shouting back at me that if I fell asleep, I’d wake up in this awful room feeling worse and even more detached from the world. I took a second shower. Got dressed. Grabbed my journal and headed to the office. It was only 3:30p.m. The whole time, I’m wondering what’ s wrong with me? Usually I’d be exploring, usually I’d be in adventure mode checking out every nook and cranny looking for a story to tell. Where was that little spark that kept my fire going?
A man, the owner, came out of the kitchen through the apartment living room to the front desk. He invited me to join him and his wife for a late afternoon lunch. I declined. I told him I was taking a walk. I said I need direction.
The man’s face jumped to a smile and a thought, knowing exactly where I should go. He said I wouldn’t regret following the path that would take me to a clearing, because tonight there was sure to be a fire-bellied sky. He said it happened often this time of year, because this part of the world often was caught between three weather fronts. His eyes promised something beautiful. I felt that spark try to ignite. As I picked up my journal and turned to the door, his wife came out with a bag that held a ham sandwich and a soda. She said it was lunch and went back inside.
I should have known that this was the answer. As soon as I started walking, my lungs filled with air; my eyes filled with color; my soul filled with the great outdoors. I was out of the concrete box and into creation. A half mile later I was sitting in the clearing under a white oak tree on a bluff. This was my destination. I was eating lunch enjoying the luxury of time with the sound of the birds and the view of the sky. I had made friends with that massive white oak, probably a hundred years old and as wise as my dad. It let me lean on it while I wrote in my journal, and while I rested my eyes in a nap. Now I could sleep. I was in my natural habitat.
A slight chill pushed at me to get my sleepy attention, and for good reason I soon found out. I opened my eyes to a sky I’d never hoped to dream about. The sky reminded me of the fire that drove me to conquer my fears and chase down my dreams. How could I have thought this day dark or this place dreary? Now the spark inside me caught hold just like that sky. That sky held magic. It had transformed me.
I knew immediately why they called this the fire-bellied sky.
—me strauss Letting me be