Be Grateful

The miles unreeled effortlessly beneath my wheels.  Alone and running north in the blue pre-dawn, I mused on my good fortune.

On this soft, warm morning, I could see forever. The interstate highway stretched away, an endless silver thread across the North Dakota landscape. Lush and green with late summer growth, my world was empty save a sparse trickle of vehicles hundreds of feet to my left. No signs, no fences, no evidence of civilization marred the lonely, empty expanse of my favourite landscape: grasslands. I was alone on the road and happy beyond measure.

A privilege of those with the open schedule of the retired, I was taking another road trip. Several days from home, I’d spent the previous night on the prairie in some remote gravel pit and I was well rested and eager to go about the day’s work of moving myself across the map.

For an hour or so, I cruised northwards towards Fargo, dreaming of breakfast. I’d have bacon and eggs – sufficient calories to get me far to the west by afternoon, across the state line and into Montana.

My soundtrack consisted solely of the gentle hum of the engine and the blurred rustle of wind. I frequently drive these long trips without entertainment. No music, no books on tape, no radio, no distractions. My entire world consists of the vehicle, the road and the flow of geography and weather around me. There are few things I’d rather do than drive long distance and I’m seldom more at peace than when I’m behind the wheel, somewhere out there in a landscape far from home.

I’d been imagining the smell of bacon and coffee and was blessing yet again my good fortune at the simple truth of being there, when it suddenly appeared on the horizon.

A billboard.  A huge billboard, incongruous in this vast and empty land.  Stark and alone, a billboard of epic scale, suitable for Los Angeles freeways, but completely out of place here on the empty prairie.  This was no highway hypnosis, no early morning pre-coffee hallucination, it was real. And it was becoming ever larger as I approached. Fifty feet wide, it consisted simply of a simple white rectangle and black lettering.  Two words.

Be Grateful.

“WOW!”  I shouted aloud. “Where did that come from?” I pounded my fist on the dashboard and shouted again. “YES!” I slowed and gawked with amazement and moist-eyed joy at the sheer audacity of both the structure and its message.


I have no idea who put that sign there, or why they did so, but their timing was perfect. It appeared at precisely the perfect moment for me that  morning. It was as if the sign had read my mind.

And for that beautiful moment, several years later I’m still grateful.

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