I lived on county roads when I was young, dusted in the summer from farmered pickup trucks hauling hay to cows over the next hill. I rode a faded blue bike with no gears down our graveled lane way, leaning at the end into tree lit back roads, no lines, no lights, waving past black eyed Susans and Queen Anne’s lace. In rain it was muddy, in winter the skid of back tires kept us home, and in spring the runoff made miniature buttes and canyons in the narrow rutted lanes. The road changed and slipped its sides over the years, gravel and wildflowers mixed up and sliding down into fields of hay.
It was never made uniform or fixed, maybe some new gravel spilling out of a dump truck and maybe dark, heavy oil in the summer to keep the dirt down, maybe plowed in those old scowling winter storms, but never paved.
And every day it brought me home.
Home on a bright, loud bus filled with noise and competition, voices slipping out of open windows scattering crows from corn stalks. Home on that faded blue bike with no gears at the beginning of the school year when that bus was too full and I was too shy to risk being watched finding a seat. Home on long walks in the dark and rain, staying late in high school halls to be with friends and boys, catching up on homework I never did. Home in a small red car that stalled at stoplights, and taught me how to shift gears on hills.
All those years, I was never made uniform or fixed.
Maybe I studied, read and prayed to stop feeling so mixed up and scattered. Maybe I learned religion and then unlearned it, competing ever and always against myself to be more, to be better, to have lines and lights and to be unchanged by rain. To be paved.
But the best roads are not paved. They change on different days, they wind and veer a little for no reason, they dip down where water pools and they stay a little rough, a little messy and are left unfixed. Paving a road is fine, and I have tried that—but for me, I am always going to find that back road to walk alone in the dark, singing.
All this time, all these ways, this old, lovely dusty road brought me home.