Dirt roads

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(HOST) Commentator Willem Lange is pretty sure the streets of Paradise are paved with – dirt.

(LANGE) A little over twenty years ago my family and I were houseless. We wanted to build, but couldn’t find any property we could afford. I rode all over town on my bike, which is the best way to look. One day I just happened – or maybe it was Fate that led me – to turn up a little dead-end dirt road. There, floating in several inches of rainwater in the ditch, was a very old For Sale sign. I called the number on the sign, and just a few days later my wife and I were the proud, but nervous owners of ten acres of woods and a swamp with a brook running through it.

I still can’t believe how lucky we were. The woods that rise from the swamp look and smell just like our native Adirondacks – ash, beech, oak, maple, hemlock, and lots of glacial erratics – and our back yard has turned out to be a major thoroughfare for our local deer herd. The does drop their fawns in the deep grass down in the swamp. We can watch them growing all summer.

The road was originally just a long driveway to a farm. The old farmhouse, much remodeled, is still there. The road follows the little brook upstream until it ends in a lovely glen surrounded by hills on three sides; so, practically speaking, it really couldn’t have gone anywhere else. Its name is Elm Road, but the last of the dead elms fell over many years ago.

Somewhere around here – I can’t find it at the moment – I’ve got an old photograph of a dirt road in mud season. The ruts in the road are at least sixteen inches deep, and there’s a car – looks like maybe a 1925 Dodge – sunk in right to its frame. That doesn’t happen much anymore. Town road crews for years dressed their dirt roads with gravel, which was a big improvement on the native soil, but washed away pretty easily. Then they began mixing in small amounts of chloride, which help to stabilize the gravel. Now, on dirt roads with heavy traffic, they use recycled asphalt, ground up fine. Looks almost like pavement, but it’s still technically a dirt road.

Our little road doesn’t get much traffic; there are only eight houses up here. It does get rough every few weeks, but a few hours with the grader and a little fill straightens it right out. I kind of like the washboard. It slows down the traffic quite a bit. Also, we live near the foot of the road, and I can tell who’s going by, or when the oil truck or the UPS van is coming, just by the distinctive rumble each of them makes as he comes up the road.

We’ll be leaving one of these days. We’re getting to the age where, if we fall down in the yard, we’d like to be seen from the road. But we’ll remember this as one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever lived.

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire. I gotta get back to work.

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