• Country Roads

    Our town has but three main roads: one is the main road up to Beartown, another veers off to the west, through the notch (a narrow mountain pass) and down into the valley where we have our farm, and the third goes pretty much east, up over a four-wheel drive track, down into the next village. Most roads are named after old town families such as Wilcox or Woodcock, and they wind through hollows or around hills and mountains that ring with a small-town accent-- Swearing Hill and Minister Hill, which face each other across the valley, or Red, Moffitt, and Bear Mountains, which rise to just over 3,000 feet. Our town is also blessed with many small streams, most of which feed into the Green River, including Terry Brook, Chunks Creek, and Baldwin Brook over on the west side, and Pruddy Brook, Hopper Brook, and Tidd Brook in the main part of town. I used to live near Tidd Brook as a child, catching small crawfish and trout under the barn-red wooden bridge. The sound of the cars rattling on the timbers, one at a time, echoed off the side hills of our small hollow, but today they are just a memory now that the bridge has been replaced by a quieter culvert. Back then, there weren't many cars on our roads and they moved slowly: old Charlie Bentley Sr. hunched over the steering wheel of a black 1950 Ford, or Fred Woodcock Sr. driving down to the row of mailboxes, anxious for his social security check. As each car moved across the bridge, every board had time to move up and down, the hollow thumping always in the same key but playing a song with different notes. In bed at the end of a summer day as the light was just fading to twilight, I would stare out my window at the side hill of thistle and wait for the sound of a crossing, for a sign of movement in the still, hot air, a promise of a chance visit to break the silence of the house.

    Travelling along that road over the years, I have seen many things. There is the Skidmore place, just a few feet back from the main road into town, which offers a clear view of 55-gallon drums, a pickup with a smashed windshield, pools of rusted chain, and piles of worn tires strewn about as if some great wind funnel had sucked out the contents of the sagging garage and thrown them helter-skelter. For many years, one could also see Russell Baines, a metalworker who would park his blue station wagon by the side of the road, eat potato chips, read a romance novel, and go to sleep. He had moved in with Charlie Bentley, a local farmer. To get some privacy he'd start up the car every afternoon and go in search of a new place to park. Pretty soon, the whole town got used to the sight of Russell, head angled out the window, his large ears and thick black-frame glasses visible from the road, taking his nap, alone at last, peaceful in his car.

    But it is the dirt road that passes by our farm that I love the most. During the long days of summer, we put the dishes in the sink to soak after dinner and take a walk down the road in the twilight. During the day, as I bush hog over a wet corner of the meadow I can smell sweet fern, the hot scent of wild sage, the occasional whiff of spearmint, feel the blast of heat from the tractor, see the birds swooping down over the mowed grass, an ocean of yellow and orange Indian paintbrushes against waves of large bright purple clover, overstuffed bumblebees as big as a thumb, and hear the rhythm of the engine and the mower, the hum of pistons, gears, axles, and whirring blades. But now, in the still of the evening, I walk down our road and witness hundreds of fireflies sparking over a field of sunflowers, a goat perched half-way up a small tree by a neighbor's barn, a sky that is tinged with pink clouds that turn into a broad swath of vermilion and magenta as the broad strokes are painted just above our small valley, a handsome bowl of trees and pasture and houses that is open to the universe yet hidden quietly in the mountain valley. I crouch next to one of our hives, listening to the buzzing of 40,000 bees, the wooden frames alive with newly minted workers, happy, I suppose, to be at the end of another day. I can hear our voices clear and soft drifting up over the valley on a slight breeze that stirs up out of the west. We walk slowly back home along the lazy "S" of the dusty road to our farmhouse, the last swath of sun lighting up the top of the ridges with deep ochres and golds. The children run ahead, thinking of great bowls of homemade vanilla ice cream with stewed rhubarb. They carry a small railroad lantern that swings back and forth as they race ahead down our dirt driveway by the old apple trees that need pruning and the young cornfield. The faint breath of wind washes in and out of us, an ebb and flow that is always just out of focus, like trying to follow the path of a lightning bug across a meadow. The light flashes on and off in bursts, but its dark path can only be inferred, never actually seen. On these evenings, I watch our three children, standing quietly by the side of a meadow, enchanted by a glimpse of the unknown in a thousand blinking lights moving across a field blanketed by twilight.

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