The Quiet Lure Of Dusty Old Country Roads

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WHEN we were children, Father would take us all for a car ride on hot prairie afternoons. It was a ride with no purpose and no real end in sight, except to swing back by supper - a ride to explore the country we took for granted around us. Swinging off the main highway as soon as we could, we would turn onto the dirt roads leading we didn't know where. We would pass buffalo rubbing stones, duck ponds filled with Canada geese, and miles of golden grain. Occasionally, we would come across other travelers with no destination, and we would honk our horns and hang out our arms to wave hello. Sometimes we would stop at old wooden storefronts, fill the car up with gas and buy soda pop, and the locals would tell us about their tiny corner of creation: the Indian village where you could sometimes find arrowheads; the lost lakes where you could dive in and cool off from the heat. The roads were often unpaved and dusty, but there was always something to marvel at. Antiquated schoolhouses would flood my imagination with stories of children long ago writing on slates and playing Red Rover. Old signposts would list long-forgotten townships. Boarded-up barns and rusting farm equipment sparked sad tales of farmers who had tried and failed. Still, there were farms that had been standing for generation upon generation, elegantly placed along our dusty route - a tribute to hard work and determination. Signs would offer the freshest of Earth's bounties, and we would stop and buy eggs and homemade lemonade and then be on our way. Sometimes, we'd glimpse a deer or an old badger determinedly crossing the road. Hawks would silhouette the sky overhead, and meadowlarks would sing in the distance. The roads were always full of images of wonder, and I could never get enough of them. When I moved to the mountains and then to the sea, I carried with me my love of old country roads. Weekends would often find me off the beaten tracks, following old highway routes to hidden destinations - old Klondike trails, agate-encrusted mountainsides, fields of wildflowers, and old country stores where one could find directions to salt-licked passages, ocean beaches, and tidal pools. There was always an adventure waiting around the next dusty corner. My mother must have the same love as I, for she chose a cabin at the top of a winding mountain road for a home. Sometimes you have to stop to let livestock cross, and you have to be careful not to hit any grouse that amble onto your path. At the top, the road is hot and dusty. Come autumn, it explodes with color, and in winter it can ice over. Then you get to spend the night under down quilts by a big picture window where the stars fill the sky. It is a road that carried many across the years, pioneers and gold rushers, dreamers, and brave beginners. The tradition continues on in our family, and every now and then the children feel an urge to explore. We pack sandwiches, fill up the gas tank, and leave our watches behind. We turn off the main highway and amble quietly down different roads. Sometimes there are potholes or locked fences blocking our path. Sometimes the road is full of ruts and jagged corners. Sometimes it is a dead end. But most often, one road leads to another, country road to city road. When we stop at a wooden store for directions, I watch my children listen in awe to the old couple's tales of where they might find an abandoned gold trail. We drink our soda and set off on the adventure they have marked for us on the map. As we leave, I honk my horn, and the couple waves back with open arms. Yes, God bless them, country roads are a lot like people.

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