True Road

We’ve lived on this hill for almost four decades. It has given us a breathtaking view every day. It has brought us the gift of so much beauty. There are so many things to love about living on the crest of this hill. But when all is said and done, the biggest character on the hill is True Road.

Under an arch of magnificent maples, True Road tears up our hill at what seems an impossibly steep angle. True Road is a dirt road as well as steep one. This combination in northern New England makes it a flamboyant, quirky, and opinionated presence figuring large in our lives.

New neighbors just arriving on our road look befuddled when I mention the drama of the road. Within a few months, they nod with knowing grimaces. The road with its special hill speaks to one and all who live on it.

The extreme steepness means that during winter weather, all seven eight nine months of it, there is a need to proceed with caution down the hill. On any morning of precipitation such as snow, sleet, icy rain or freezing rain, people going to work line their vehicles up at the top of the hill, right where the farm sits. They get out of their cars to peer over the hill to watch how the journey down the hill is going for the car ahead. Sometimes, despite the best intentions, things do not go well, and this mass of people comes in handy when many willing hands are needed to help someone out of a ditch.

At other times of day when there is no crowd, we are the default source for willing hands. Being situated at the top of the hill, we are the first place people come for help when they find themselves off the road. They may have gone too fast down the hill or the hill has simply had its say despite cautious driving. The hill is a mystery. It has its own ideas. Even the mightiest cannot outwit the hill. Even the town plow flipped over on its side while braking down our hill.

We have a few reckless impulsive overconfident confident drivers on the hill who are registered frequent ditchers. When there is a knock on the door on a snowy night, it’s almost always one of these two. What can I say? They like drama.

Then there is mud season on True Road. During the weeks of mud season, the road unlocks and the texture of the road goes from hard pack to soupy gloop. At night, if temperatures drop, it locks up again, freezing the ruts created during the soupy gloop stages.

How do these ruts begin? How does any rut begin? I don’t think anyone sets off to create a rut, but somehow they happen. The more cars and trucks that traverse the road, the deeper the ruts. Sometimes the old saying about digging to China comes to mind. How can these ruts get so deep?

As the ruts deepen they pull cars hard in different and unexpected directions. There is nothing quite like a rut ride on True Road. One of my children had a friend who wanted to design roller coasters. Numerous visits to the farm laid rest to this dream. Who needs roller coasters when they have this hill?

This morning for example, Jim set off to school in the truck. He called when he got to school to report on the amusement park ride that had sprung up overnight on the hill. He suggest a route down the hill through the ruts: I think it was right, hard right, then hard left, then right. On my first (and definitely only) trip down the hill today, the ruts were nearly impassable even with Jim’s guidance. Coming back from my errand, I parked the car at a neighbors and hiked the hill. This was its own drama as several cars came bumping down the hill while I walked up. As their cars lurched like pinballs unexpectedly pulling right and left, I dove for a steep bank to get out of the way.

As the day warms, the ruts will get worse and the ride more extreme. There will be a pack of sensible drivers who will park their cars with me at the bottom of the hill and there will be a few fearless ones with cars stuck halfway up the hill in a particularly gargantuan rut. We’ll need the town grader to save us before the road is smooth and safe again. As we wait our turn in a town full of problematic dirt roads, we’ll have at least a day or two to share notes and cluck over the car that will have to be towed away in order for the town grader to smooth the ruts.

Bonding is a strange and unexpected gift of the hill. New England with its bitter endless tiresome cheeky winters may keep us too long in our separate homes as has this darn virus, but the hill keeps us connected. We share a common difficulty and enjoy each other’s grit and determination to navigate this challenge. We help each other up and down the hill (especially us Sheehans at the top of the hill) and we tell tales of mishaps and glorious moments of victory.

Maybe we will look back on this time of the virus like that. Maybe we will find increased empathy as we share what it has been like for each of us. Maybe we will savor each others grit and determination in the face of something that moved us unexpectedly all over the place in ruts that were not of our creation. Maybe this will bring us closer to each other. I hope so.