Sunday, February 22, 2009

Running Water

When the county road crew drags the ditches of my dirt road, the two-mile drive from the paved road to Sandhill becomes an obstacle course. Roots and rocks make the surface of the road, usually relatively smooth and flat, look something like the pictures of the moon that the Apollo astronauts sent back to those of us staring up at the sky ooh-ing and ah-ing.

The result of this change in landscape, for the driving public, is that the shocks on whatever vehicle one is operating get a work-out normally seen only in commercials shot in the Baja Peninsula. Tires bounce, steering wheels jerk, anything hanging from the rear-view mirror sways like a pendulum on speed and one cannot avoid thoughts of the yolks of a dozen eggs staining the carpet in the cargo area.

Last week was our week. Whatever rotation it is that the county maintains for ditch-dragging, a rotation that has to take into consideration weather conditions and the availability of correctional institute labor, resulted in our road getting itself torn up on Friday.

Driving home, happy for the weekend and thinking about my Saturday plans, I nonchalantly made the turn from pavement to red clay and suddenly felt my shoulders jolting against the seatbelt, my head making contact with the roof of the car. Ba-bump.

You can't drive fast on a road whose ditches have just been emptied of months of debris. You drive slowly and carefully, maneuvering left and right with the finesse of an ice sculptor, and you pay close attention to that around which you are maneuvering. Rocks and roots won't blow a tire, but a lost plow point will.

Most of the time I am slightly irritated by the care I have to exert on such days. Most of the time I mutter uncharitable things about the mounds of dirt and the people who left them there. Most of the time I am not the least bit interested in why this inconvenience is regularly inflicted upon us dirt-road dwellers.

But Friday was different. Maybe just because I was happy for the weekend and thinking about my Saturday plans, I paid attention – to the extent that I could without driving straight into one of them – to the raw cuts in the walls of the ditches, the way the different colors of clay looked like a cutaway of the layers of the earth in my elementary school science book. I noticed how deep the ditches were, now emptied of branches and dead leaves. And I realized how easily would now flow the rain waters that were sure to come with what General Beauregard Lee had just told us would be an early spring.

That's the thing about water: To be of any benefit, it has to flow. It can't be allowed to sit, to stay, to stagnate. And if its conduit – a ditch, an irrigation pipe, the spout of a watering can – is clogged with waste, that is exactly what happens.So we drag the ditches, bore out the pipe, flush the spout, give water a channel through which it can run, through which it spreads out to nourish and clean.

I'm not always as prompt to do that as I should be. I get distracted, I let the dead leaves of unfinished tasks settle in the channel of my heart, I ignore the sludge of negative emotions that slows the stream of kindness. And, before I know it, the channel overflows and the road is washed out.

Stranded. Two miles from home.The choice, then, isn't so hard. Drive carefully. Avoid the roots and rocks and, when the weather turns, let it rain.

Copyright 2009

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