Life in the Country, Selectively Recalled

Mud season is here, my second mud season. Deep ruts slice the driveway's surface, and the sturdiness of the footprints on my carpet would cause any detective to rejoice. But footprints don't bother me the way they did last year.

My husband's retirement brought to fruition my longtime wish to return to the Idaho countryside where I began. But city life must have made me soft while I wasn't looking. That and the fact that in my reveries of summer sunsets and browsing cows I failed to remember certain aspects of country living.

For example, mud season and car washes. While there is a car wash 11 miles from our house, it is far from automatic, except for the part that takes car paint right off the body. Nevertheless, for a while I scrupulously followed the routine of zapping my car there once a week. I gradually realized that by the time I got back home my car looked pretty much as it had when I left. Rinsing with the hose on a gravel drive only splashed on a new coating of mud.

When mud season was over, I was soon reminded that mud turns into thick powdery dust that is only quenched by four or five feet of snow.

And while my memory had retained the scent of red clover in bloom, it had apparently blocked out the smells created by the browsing cows, particularly pungent in barnyards in the spring.

Another thing I had forgotten was the way people leave vehicles in the traffic lane. Sometimes these vehicles - tractors, trucks, pickups, snowplows - are simply parked there with no sign of a driver or any lights. On other occasions, both lanes are blocked and the drivers of two vehicles are passing the time of day. They don't seem to realize they are making you late for an important appointment!

But as you pass them, another thing you had forgotten about happens: They smile and wave, whether they know you or not.

And now we approach the subject of flies. The flies here are huge beyond description, and it seems that nothing stops them or even slows them down. Indeed, they seem to relish imbibing Raid and Bug Bomb. I almost expected them to buzz back to the kitchen and ask for a second helping.

But in reality, it is birds who dine with us, just outside our window. Many of these beautiful and varied dinner companions are birds I have never seen before. Occasionally, white-tailed deer breakfast in our front yard, and we have seen moose across the lane on our neighbor's property.

These are the positives that soon began to outweigh mud and dust. And anyway, I've started buying clothes with muted - might as well face it - muddy colors, so that when my arm rubs against the car door, the dirty smear just looks like part of the cloth.

As for the car wash, well, I run my car through that in the big city - regular as clockwork - about twice a year. I also dust off the license plates every month or so when the numbers are no longer legible.

And when I have an appointment, which is rare these days, I leave 10 minutes earlier than I used to. That way, if I see someone I know, I can stop the car in the traffic lane and chat for a minute.

Late last summer, when Jack and I were driving into town, we noticed that a good-sized fire had started at the saw mill. As we debated about whether we should report it, we spotted the fire truck coming toward us, its lights flashing.

We eased off the narrow road as far as we could, and stopped. And as the firemen passed, all of them waved and grinned.

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