Frost heaves

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(HOST) You know it’s mid-winter in northern New England when you see orange “Frost Heave” signs along the side of the road. Commentator Kristen Laine has recently discovered that they can have a double meaning.

(LAINE) We had an accident the other morning – the second one in a week, and we’re still months away from spring.

I’m not talking about a fender bender or, heaven help me, worse. This accident happened entirely inside the car, caused by a combination of my son’s sensitive stomach, winding roads, and frost heaves. We were rushing to get my daughter to school. From there, we’d make the short hop to my son’s preschool. He’s three and a half. When I call him my little one, as I often do, he reminds me that he’s a “big boy.”

Like everyone else around here, we rely on certain back-road short-cuts. Goose Pond Road cuts off ten minutes between Canaan and Lyme. A potholed section of the Grafton Turnpike saves us almost that to Route 4 south. We’re not afraid of washboards, ice, slush, mud, ruts, and plain old bumps if we can shave a few minutes off the hours we spend in the car. But frost heaves upset our careful balances. They force us to slow way down, to watch where we’re going, or make us pay in spills, stains, and struts. I stop bringing my coffee in the car. We run late to everything until we recalibrate our schedules. And, I’m learning, I need to pack extra clothes for my son.

We had just passed Goose Pond when he broke a long silence with the inexplicable southern accent that comes to him at these times. “Mommy? I don’t feel well.” After one frost heave too many, he … well … heaved.

I pulled over, cleaned him up, and settled him back in his car seat. He lay there gray-faced and resigned. I rolled down his window. His sister wrapped her arms against the cold, late again. I alternated between watching the road and watching him – partly for signs of a repeat, which would use up his last change of clothes, and partly just to look at his sad, sweet face.

Have I told you he loves cars, speed? “Little one,” I said, trying to catch his eye in the rear-view mirror, “Did you know there are places where the roads are completely straight and flat?” He didn’t move, but his eyes flicked up to meet mine. I kept talking. Anything to keep his mind off his stomach, twisting along with the road.

I told him about roads I’d driven out west, where smooth pavement goes on for miles. “A gazillion miles?” he asked. “Not quite,” I told him, “but hundreds and hundreds. And you can drive so fast.”

“How fast?” he asked.

Recently, my daughter saw an ad for an island resort. “I wish I could go there,” she said. Friends are planning trips to Florida. But mid-winter fantasies can take many forms. Forced to take it slow, we imagined going as fast as a race car. While I was at it, I also imagined warm air blowing through our window, a cup of hot coffee in my hand, and breakfast still safe in the belly of the big boy in the back seat.

I’m Kristen Laine of Orange, NH.

Kristen Laine writes about the environment, women’s issues and education.

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