Washboard Situation

We live on a dirt road. It might also be called a gravel road, or an unpaved road. I am not a fan of referring to it as “unpaved” since that implies that the norm is paved, when there are more miles of gravel roads in the world than paved roads. In Vermont, there are 1,500 more miles of dirt roads than paved roads.

A gravel road has its charms. Generally fewer people drive on them. Paved roads are faster and usually more direct, so they take the bulk of traffic. People tend to drive more slowly on dirt roads. And they look better, if you ask me, since they feel like they are cut from the earth, even they are often solidly engineered. Nature could take them back, if we let it, or so it seems. A paved road just seems laid on top of the landscape–foreign and immovable.

There are, of course, disadvantages. Our road is open, so it bakes in the sun. Many dirt roads turn to mud in the spring, but ours dries out pretty quickly. Mud season is short on our road. But that sun drying things out? That means dust. When summer comes and we haven’t had rain for several days, passing cars raise clouds of dust. And the wind blows it our way. Our porch can get covered in dust. When we eat outside at the porch table, we need to wipe that thing down or expect grit in our teeth.

We are in the season of dust right now, but it isn’t too bad lately. That is because of another problem–washboarding. We have the worst washboarding we have seen on our road since we have lived in this house. The phenomenon gets its name because it looks like an old fashioned washboard. Wheels bouncing on the road cause ripples to form in the dirt surface, and these get enlarged with more traffic. This means a really bumpy drive. It shakes the dash and rattles the windows. Not good for your car.

However, this washboard situation means that everyone driving past drives a little more slowly. With slower driving comes less dust. So when we leave the house and drive down the road, I am none too happy about it, but when other people drive down our road I am pleased that they kick up less dust.

The town grades our road a few times each year, and they have not done it in a while now, so we are due. I am surprised they have not graded it yet, given just how bad the road has gotten, but I know there are plenty of other projects in town. Grading our road is a priority for me. It may not be for the town as a whole.

One possible delay is the installation this summer of fiber optic cable along our road. It has been buried, like the power cables, rather than strung, so they have been digging. That digging ended a month ago, but maybe they have more to do? It may not make sense to grade the road if more digging is going to happen. Really, I have no idea.

It will be great to have high speed internet, finally. But I sure would like a smoother drive and to prevent some car damage. In this case, I will take some dust. It is easier to wipe down the table than to replace auto parts. Costs less, too.

To the Tractor Sign

From our house to the end of the road off our road is two miles. It makes a good four-mile run, or walk, or bike. If you go to the bend in the road, where the big puddle sits after a hard rain, and where the yellow-billed cuckoo called one morning, it is one mile, or two miles round trip. And it is a mile and a half to the tractor sign.

When our children were small we would ride our bikes down the road. At first to the steep hill, then just up the steep hill, but eventually all the way to the tractor sign. That extra half mile to the end of the road, past the sign, heads down a steep hill again, which means heading back up that hill to return. Given our children’s early biking abilities, the tractor sign was just about right.

Five kilometers is just over three miles, so going to the tractor sign and back is like completing a 5K. It makes for a good enough morning run when I have to rise early and fit that in before heading to work. Three miles still doesn’t sound all that far to me, but 5K? That’s solid.

The tractor sign is kind of a classic. Tractors don’t really look like that anymore. I mean, some people still drive old ones like that. With care, a tractor lasts a long time. And there are still plenty of old tractors around here. Witness the tractor parade each October in Charlotte. And that hat. I guess maybe some people wear those. They are (maybe) even making a comeback, but still, not really the style these days. So yeah, not current.

Tomorrow morning I plan to get up early enough to fit in that run before I shower and shave and generally get all prettified for the work day. It is pretty likely I will run to the tractor sign and back. I will give the dude on the sign a wave and turn back, mostly downhill, around that sharp bend, over the river and into the sunrise toward home. 5K before breakfast anyone?

Busses Stuck on the Hill

“The thing is,” said my son afterwards, “No one even thought it was weird. It was just something that would happen in Vermont.”

He had a point. I dropped him off early for a nordic ski meet, then went to take a walk at the Green Mountain Audubon center. I had over an hour. I drove the couple miles out on the dirt road, passing a bus headed up, and started down the hill at the end. There was a bus there, pulled over at the bottom. Printed on the side was “White River Valley” so they had had a long drive already. That hill was a bit slick, but it didn’t seem too slick. Then again, I wasn’t driving a bus full of minors.

When I returned, the bus was still there. In fact, there now were three busses, from different school districts. I thought of offering to shuttle some skiers up, but I figured that was a non-starter. Parents have to sign a waiver to allow their kids to ride on the bus. Any good bus driver would not let them ride in some stranger’s vehicle, even if they had a current FBI background check. So I kept going.

Up at the ski center I learned that the race, no surprise to me, was delayed–busses stuck. I chatted with my son for a bit. Then someone passed looking for volunteers to shuttle people up. I guess they are being flexible with the transportation, I thought. So I headed back down the road again in my car.

At the bus, the first driver was, predictably, unwilling to let students go. I understood that. I asked if he knew the long way around. One of the busses was gone, so maybe they had already decided to take that route. A bunch of cars started to pile up, folks willing to transport skiers. Then the town truck arrived to sand the road. So the busses were no longer stuck, and we caravanned back to the ski center. I spent a lot of time on that road.

Eventually everyone got where they needed to be, and the race started, only 45 minutes late, and my son cranked it out despite the crappy conditions, and it was an event full of fun and hard work, and I saw a bunch of other parents I know, and it all worked out. There were plenty of people willing to help, and it felt to me like a conflict between neighborliness and liability.

Once upon a time neighborliness would have won the day. Today, safety and security take precedence. I don’t think one is better than the other, or that one way should be the right way. I just noticed it in this case. I would have done just what those bus drivers did. But still, it would have been nice to have a bunch of people solve a problem and make the solution happen. And that is something, I am sure, is not unique to Vermont, even if those busses stuck on an icy hill was a classic Vermont situation.

Old Truck

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It’s been there since we moved here twelve years ago, the old truck sitting in the field. Whenever I walked down the road and turned the corner, there is was, looking at me. I wondered how long it had been there. The first time I saw it, it had clearly rested in the same spot for many years. It sat low, sunk into the soil. Rust showed through the paint. Grass grew taller than its hood. It was an old truck with a story.

The farm where this truck resided had been worked in the past, but the farm sat untended now. The barn next to that old truck was sagging. Each spring the roof would rest closer to the ground. Swallows nested in the rafters. Windows had little glass remaining. The silo’s hat sat crooked, like a man too tired to right his shifted chapeau. The fields, while still rich with grass, no longer smelled sweet with spring cutting. The truck was a witness to the farm’s end.

But why was the truck there, in that spot? It was not parked next to the barn, or in it. It was not simply pulled off the road. It was well into the field, as if someone drove it there with a load of hay for cattle, and just never turned the key again. Or perhaps the truck was on its way out already, and when it would not start, was abandoned. Did a farmer die suddenly? Or did this farming family simply retire?

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It was not totally unused. Someone years ago found it made a good target. Bullet holes pierced the passenger door and window. Mice, I am sure, nested in the seats and dashboard. Kingbirds perched on the roof, scanning for grasshoppers. And it generated stories for passersby such as myself.

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A couple of days ago, whoever owns the place now decided it was time to move the truck. An oversized tow truck backed up and tried to haul it out. The tow truck got stuck. A second oversized tow truck pulled that one out. The old truck ended up closer to the road, out of the ground, but it is still there. The rear axle weighs down its bed. The rusted leaf springs were torn off and lie on the ground. It’s a wreck, but its new position meant I could get a better look at it than I ever had.

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The license plate registration sticker reads “APR 79,” so the thing has been there for 40 years. It had to have been registered some time before April of 1979 so perhaps the truck was abandoned at the end of the summer, maybe even October of 1978, if I can conjecture a bit. Several times I have wondered if the truck could be restored–cleaned up, tuned up, parts replaced, running again. Seeing it in detail now, that idea is dead.

I am sure this truck served its time well. From the day it was purchased at Shearer Chevrolet, it hauled people and tools and animals and supplies. This week, I suppose, it will get hauled away, scrapped, turned into steel cans or furniture frames or faucets. Some might say the field will look better without it–tidier, more natural. They might say that the old truck is junk. But I will miss its stories and, when I pass that way, I will wonder a little bit less.

Unconscious Singing and a Wrench

My son loves to sing.  He sings all the time–while building a boat out of legos, while sitting down to breakfast, even while falling asleep. He sings songs with words and songs without. He hums. He is just a happy guy. I was thinking yesterday about how I love this about him. He shares his happiness with the world.

Yesterday he and I went for a bike ride–not too far, just a slow peddle down the road to enjoy the amazing day. He was, as he so often is, singing as we went. We talked about this and that, of course, and were having a fine time. Now, this road we live on is not paved, and any unpaved road in Chittenden County, Vermont’s most populous, becomes a destination for walkers, runners and bikers. We live on this one and we use it for all three of these activities. Lots of other people do as well.

Yesterday, as on any given weekend day, comers from parts unknown came to take advantage of the unpavedness of our road. They walked and ran. When my son and I headed out on our bicycles, two women were walking in the same direction we planned to go. They were well ahead of us. With the speed of our two-wheeled vehicles, however, we caught up with them, despite our slow rate. Although we saw them, these two women did not see us. They ambled along, chatting loudly, gesticulating as they conversed. As we got close behind them, on the other side of the road mind you, my son sang a semi-wordless tune.

Once we got close enough, this scared the pants off them. They turned and jumped. Well, one of them jumped, and this made the other jump. On the one hand I felt bad for them–a nice peaceful walk interrupted by a dangerous and insidious force, a beast who’s only goal is slay the innocent walkers…Wait, it’s only a kid and his dad. On the other hand, I thought this was funny as hell and had to suppress my laughter. They laughed, however–perhaps nervously–but they laughed.

We were close enough that I could see that the woman closest to us was carrying something.  My first thought, given the reaction she had just had, was that it was mace. She walked with someone else and with a weapon to ward off would-be assailants. But it was only a wrench, maybe 1/2 inch. This struck me, as it may have struck others in this situation, as somewhat, well, what’s up with the wrench? I didn’t say, this of course. What I said, as we passed them, was, after one of them noted what a fine day it was, that it could be finer if only I had a wrench with which to fix my bike.  The woman carrying it offered it to me, with grand generosity, asking if it was mine. It turns out she found it on the road.

I wasn’t missing a wrench, but I liked both that she offered it to me, despite my sarcasm, and that she picked it up to begin with. Someone dropped it and maybe she could find a place to leave it. She noted that she might just find a use for it, that she must have found it for a reason, and my son and I kept on going. So in the end, all was well, and it couldn’t have been a better day.  I mean, the foliage was shining, my ears were full of song, I was riding my bike with my son, and I was offered a wrench, maybe 1/2 inch. What more could one want?

Snapper

Laying Eggs

This snapping turtle was laying eggs a few days ago. Good for you, turtle. Procreate! I’m all for those cute little buggers popping out of the sand and wiggling their way toward a new life trying to avoid things like raccoons and crows, who only want to eat them for breakfast.  This turtle, however, was depositing its potential offspring right on the side of the road.  Cars are whizzing by and its just hanging out there, popping out unformed youngsters.

Honestly, I’m not sure why turtles have been around for millions of years, or why they live to be, like, 100. Granted, we have pretty much destroyed any hope of any other creatures, aside from the ones we eat, surviving at all on this mess of a planet, but come on, turtle, how about my driveway at least? Those speeding high schoolers won’t slow down for you if they don’t slow down for the rain soaked muddy turn. That most humans don’t live to be 100 makes sense to me.

I’ll have to watch out for those little guys in however long it takes for snapping turtle eggs to hatch. I’ll even move them to safer locales, too, as long as it isn’t when school gets out.

Time on the Roads

I can’t say that I have had an easy time each morning I have risen to get a run in. Take this morning, for example. I was tired and fuzzy and hungry when I finally got out of bed, and let me tell you that was not quick process. It was dark. Clouds covered the early light and the half moon high in the sky. It was windy. I shuffled out of bed and changed into running duds. The temperature was 52 and thought, did I read that right? It was warm. So I put on shorts and long sleeves and slapped on a headlamp and a reflector vest and out I went.

My friend Pat, who is a fast enough runner to win now and again, once said to me, when I asked him how he keeps up the training pace, “There are many days when I just do not want to go for a run, but every time I do, I have a great experience.” What he meant was this: it may be hard to get started, but once you do get started, you won’t regret it.  That is pretty much spot on. Today was one of those days. Since it was dark, and the windows on the house are closed these days, I was imagining how cold it was going to be. It is November, and most dark mornings are cold. I recently ran when the temperature was in the 20’s.  This morning, however, was what you might call pleasant.

I had to use my headlamp for a bit. Cars and potholes make me cautious. But much of the way I ran in the almost-dark. It is a bit surreal at times to run when the wind blows and you can’t quite see what lies at the roadside–is that the shadow of a stump or a skunk?–and it is only you and your feet and your breathing and the road ahead. I  love that. A warm morning helps. I stopped for a couple minutes on the bridge over the river, to listen and to look at the shadowed water. It was, to use a word many shiver to utter, lovely.

I will keep doing it, this rising early to run. Some days I will go farther than others. Some days I will hop up eager to pull in some miles. Some mornings I will rise because I know I will be happy I do so even though I just don’t want to in that moment. But I rarely wish I hadn’t gotten up early to run. Only a couple of times have I been too preoccupied with my mental detritus that I would have been better off staying in bed for a while longer. But then again, I probably wouldn’t have slept anyway. In the end, I might as well just get up and go.

I am still wrangling with a bad cough and a bit a stuffed head. I look forward to that passing so I have a little more energy when I get out there in the wee hours, even if I haven’t had breakfast yet. Breakfast, by the way, tastes pretty good once you’ve already been outside for an hour or so. And who doesn’t like a good breakfast? I sit at the table, my mind clear and my muscles feeling good, and I look out at the view and look forward to the day. It may be hard to get up some days, but the time is well spent.

November View

November Morning at Breakfast