Three Blacktops and a Dirt Road

Rereading a book a decade after the first reading can put you in a totally different mindset. Your personal politics may have changed, your living conditions may have changed, your health, maturation, and a multitude of other contributing factors to your thought process may have changed. Thus – the book while the words have lain on the page unchanged, may have a little twist or new meaning for you.

Recently when we altered our (never firm in the first place) vacation plans from a road trip to Savannah to a (possible) camping trip at Arches National Park I pulled Desert Solitaire off the bookshelf for a reread. When I first read Edward Abbey’s account of his time as a ranger at Arches I lived in a mid-sized city, Tulsa, and spent weekends here at the farm with the man I’d recently fallen in love with. I was in my early forties and had started my life over and had discovered that I just didn’t fit in the little box of mainstream life that I had been leading for most of my life. That box was never me, but I’d never had the gumption to find the true me.

My life now is vastly different than it was, and I’d assume quite different than the lives most people lead. According to the US Census there has a been a drastic reversal of urban versus rural living since 1900. Looking at Oklahoma specifically, in 1900 7.4% of the population was urban versus 1990 when 67.7% of the population were city dwellers. The 1950 statistics showed a nearly equal percentage urban/rural population in Oklahoma (Country wide this occurred in the 1920’s, not in the 1930’s as I would have guessed.). Nationally speaking, comparing the 1900‘s to the 1990’s show 39.6% to 75.2% urban, a less dramatic rise but still quite a turnaround. Although the census no longer tracks urban/rural population in quite the same way the statistics from 1995-2000 show that migration from large cities to medium cities is up, and non-movers in nonmetropolitan areas is highest. (An answer to the simple question of what % of Americans lived in rural versus urban areas in 2000 was not located by your humble rural blogger.)

The lane to our farm

This morning at breakfast I read Abbey’s tirade in the fifth chapter about Industrial Tourism and its effect on the National Parks. His concern primarily was for road building, taken to a deeper level – road paving. I don’t recall much of this tirade from my previous reading but this time around I was set to pondering.

When we turn off the highway, we take three blacktops before getting to our dirt and gravel road. Our double mailbox (one for the old farmhouse, one for our house) stands on that road. We call three of our four dogs “dirt road dogs” because they either wandered down the dirt road to our house looking for food and affection after being dumped by some scumbag, or in the case of Tess, because we found her lost on a dirt road – again with the looking for food and affection after being dumped by some scumbag.


Our vehicles are usually covered by enough dirt and dust that you could write a decent poem on them without much effort if you’ve got one memorized or proclaim a penchant for the art, although goofball sayings are usually all that is written on dirty vehicles in these parts. According to our mechanic at Dobson’s in Hulbert, cars that travel dirt roads in rural counties tend to need more attention. Our checkbook can attest to that.

But – do I want our road paved? Blacktopped? The answer comes swift and certain – no.

Except for a few of the attendees to Mass at the monastery next door (by next door I mean I can hear the bells but have to drive two miles to see the actual monastery) who ricochet at high speeds down our road because they are either late to the service or late to lunch following the service (I assume), people drive slower on dirt roads. They may be lost, or taking the time to see the foliage in bloom (or blowing as it is on this windy day). Or maybe they are worried about the deer or other critters that dart out of tall roadside grass. Or maybe – just maybe – they are amblers, people like me whose shoulders drop with a settling of ease when they leave civilization behind.

Our dirt road – the way we like it.

Now admittedly there are people, mostly newcomers or visitors I’d guess, who would like to see our dirt road paved. I think I know what Edward Abbey would have to say to them. Stop whizzing by and consuming the miles, you’re missing important parts of our country. Why do you drive or move to the country and expect or want it be just like the city you left behind?

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6 thoughts on “Three Blacktops and a Dirt Road

  1. Too true, I remember all the folk who moved to the mountain foothills, and were peeved at the deer eating their gardens and horrified at the mountain lions — just stay in the city if that's what you want!!

  2. On the contrary, I think they drive fast because they're used to driving fast, and don't realize that they shouldn't. Country living is a completely different way of life than city living, and lots of the monastery crowd come out to the country because of the monastery, not because of the country. It'll take them a while, but the ones who stay will become country folks, and the other ones will give up and move back to civilization.

    I told some of the monastery girls who knit about Lost City Knits. They had no idea that gorgeous yarns were so close by! They had heard a rumor that you had said something disparaging about people moving in and cutting all the trees down (which I told them I completely sympathized with, considering lots of the cutting-trees-down happened right across from your driveway, and they agreed) so they weren't sure if you were an *approachable* neighbor. I assured them that you are a very approachable neighbor, so hopefully one of them will stop by to check out your yarns sometime.

  3. MC -It happens that a monastery was built next to our farm, if it had been a Baptist church and they were driving fast after worship, or a Buddhist temple, or a convenience store or whatever – the sentence would be much the same. It's not a disparaging comment about Catholics – but a comment about people driving too fast down a country road. It's about slowing down, a dirt road encourages slowing down, when the road is paved it encourages an increased speed. That's both what Edward Abbey was writing about in the chapter I'm reading reagarding the road construction at Arches and about my reflection on his words.

  4. What the heck are monastery girls…..two words I would never have put together in the same sentence, let alone as noun and adjective. That they find monks approachable and you not is hysterical. I would feel the same way about the words: nunnery boys.

  5. As one who lives in a city, I love a good, slow dirt road. Although I do have a couple scary memories of getting lost on dirt roads and finding…creepy things…

    Love the picture of Tess!

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