My dream lay down a dirt road

It seems simple to me. This is how simple.

My parents, in summer, take us three kids in the car down a long dirt road. The forest presses in with thick shade and flickering glades of light, the car dust covering lightly the blueberries along the sides. Far into the woods are the people we are visiting in their cabin on a broad lawn, a river singing down a slope of meadow.

"They stay out here all summer," my mother says, "without even a clock.... Wouldn't it be grand?"

I suppose this question from my mother, along with the wild river, the absence of clocks (which surely meant absence of school and bedtime), and the long dirt road through the forest stayed in my mind, growing, becoming me. My father, a schoolteacher, would at times grow restless and want to move. I don't think he loved the new place, the settling-in, as much as the looking, the dreaming.

Again, we are driving. Lawns and grasses have gone blond and stiff and look run-over. Crickets have picked up their song with an urgency, a reminder that the world you know is run by a clock, no matter how, for the moment, you've forgotten or wish otherwise.

My father, his big freckled arm out the window, drives and drives us. My mother is peculiarly patient. "Edes Falls," she says several times, "to look at a house."

You've seen them before, old Maine houses in the country where someone once raised vegetables, and now canning jars line a cob-webbed shed. Rusting iron wheels sit in the yard where an old pump, if primed, would give water. Red paint lends the house, in late-afternoon sun, that one bit of romance to make us believe we could live like this, down a long dirt road in the tall grass in a farmhouse with wavy-glass windows, a rusted plow in the shed out back.

"We could," my mother says. My father kicks the bulkhead door.

Freed by the intensity of their conversation, we run among the grasshoppers and Queen Anne's Lace of our new house, our new house. I never was privy to the other end of the house conversations, how the clockless camp or the old farmhouses at the ends of dirt roads turned out not to be what we got.

"I wanted you to be near other children, have a library, sidewalks, good schools," my mother said.

I wanted those things, too, by the time I had children. But somehow, more insistently, I wanted water, blueberry bushes, and a long dirt road. For reasons beyond common sense or anything I can explain. it's as if I am living out my parents' unfinished musings, "We could.... Can you imagine?"

I REPLACE my car's muffler on a regular basis. I get particularly fancy in cursing the corrugation of the dirt road where I live, the jarring so loud I cannot hear anyone else or the radio or my own thoughts.

Dodging potholes, I say aloud, "This is ridiculous!" Walking, I wave frantically at lobster trucks plowing down the narrow road, warning them of my dog, my kids on bikes up ahead, none of them paying any attention because that's what a dirt road does.

Lulls you. Into thinking that there is no muffler ever to be fixed, no three or four trips a day to take kids here and there. Lulls you into thinking no one at the end of the long bumpy road would ever need to get out faster than the potholes allow. The dirt road leads me to believe that we can walk barefoot in the middle of the road, a kid on a bike, a dog sniffing the underbrush where we pick dusty berries from roadside bushes we dreamed of once upon a time.

I am foolish enough to believe in dirt roads and that, if they were to be paved, we'd all turn out to protest. I am foolish enough to think that even though I moved here from South Portland, no one else will, and the island where I am raising my kids will always stay the same. I am foolish enough to think everyone loves the dirt road because it's natural, just as I keep thinking everyone loves the nature preserve. I am foolish enough to think that our children and our children's children will have paths in the deep woods, rare orchids, and places of deep silence where they can go to know who they are without pavement, without houses or people, just roots and heaths that the glaciers of Maine left 12,000 years ago.

I am that foolish. And even more foolish to admit that there is one reason a paved road makes sense to me. That, just maybe, after I get used to living with tar and cars passing a lot faster on a road that my dog and kids won't be walking down anymore without wariness, at least my kids and I could in-line skate. Me, I'll be going slowly, looking to see if the berries are ripe by the side of the road. My daughter points out that it isn't about whether our road will be tarred, but when.

I once lived on our land in a tent. Deer paths once crisscrossed the bogs and knolls where now stand our gardens, a shed, a chicken coop, a garage, five clotheslines, two picnic tables (one that drifted over on a enormously high tide), a dome tent, gas tank, treehouse, basketball court, four kids' bikes....

Who am I to wish foolishly for things to stay the same?

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