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Tuesday, February 23, 2010


whitehead sunset

Drove to town this morning and both Air Bellows Gap Road down the mountain and Brown Road down the mountain are mud from one end to the other. I wanted to run by the post office first, so I chose the road to Whitehead. I'd talked with Carole earlier about mud on her mile long driveway. She has 4wheel, a Blazer, and I know her driveway is not near as bad as the road I drove this morning. She described soft mud places about the length of a car, which they are here. Here, several pickups and other 4wheel vehicles a day. Ruts you just have to go with like a sunken railroad track. The bottom of the rut is probably the firmest ground on the road. The road makes a Uturn around the bottom of the mountain, where I knew the real mud would be. Ruts galore, puddles, slushy mud, every kind of mud.

All I could do was go with the ruts and keep it moving. The car floated through the mud like a boat. The tires hesitated to take hold when I turned the wheels the same as a boat does. They gradually caught and I floated around there from rut to rut until the ground became firm again. It was like driving on ice. I didn't dare stop, certain I'd never get moving again. I'm used to it. That place is always bad. It's the bottom of the mountain and the rain that runs down the road and the inside ditch empties into the mud pit at the bottom. It's the nature of the place. It's never impassable, and it's seldom the mudsling it is today. I hate to think of what will happen there when they pave it. The pavement in that curve would stay soaked with water. In the winter, the water freezes and breaks the pavement into hundreds of little chunks that break down as they're driven over. When that happens, they pave over it. And the same cycle starts over.

It's simply a difficult place for road maintenance. From my time of farm work with Tom Pruitt, I believe I know how to solve the problem permanently, but don't presume to tell state road people I know more than they do about keeping a road. Because I don't. I would put down a layer of big rocks 5-6 inch diameter in a time like this when it's all mud, and sink them into the mud good, driving something over them. Keep on putting them in low places until it's level all the way around. Then a layer of 2-3" rock and pack it down, then the layer of gravel. Continue that around the outside edge of the road to let the road drain down the bank after digging it down about half way. Put sod over the rocks that are off the road so people won't be driving cars off the side in the night. I believe that would keep it plenty drained.

Twice today I had a mudsling. This is not complaining. I've known that curve as good as I know about anything. It is an incurable mudhole and ice rink. It's no big deal. Besides, I want to live in the country because it still has a little bit of connection with Mother Earth. A mudsling is a pretty good connection. The car is already so muddy underneath and the bottom halves of the doors, another mudsling isn't even going to add any. The car can't hold any more. I want to clean it at the wash place in town, but it will be exactly the same by the time I get home. It doesn't matter. It's winter. This is what happens when we have a real winter, which this one is. I don't hear anybody who knows the land complaining. We need the water for the water table, the ground water. In a year or 2 we'll probably be back to mild and dry winters. Who knows? I'm not a prophet. I certainly don't know. But looking at patterns of progression, it looks like, appears to be, seems like we'll rejoin the bigger pattern this winter was a departure from. It falls under the only certainty I've seen about winters. No two are ever alike. It's the same with summers, springs and falls. Each one is uniquely itself.

Where I park here at the house is a bit of a downhill slope that the tire tracks turned to ice on months ago. The snow gave the ice a little grip, so I never had a problem pulling out of there. Until today. The tracks were melted down to the gravel most everywhere except under the right front tire, the one that leads. I sat laughing at the predicament, trying to go back and forth a little bit, get at least a few feet run on it. Nothing would get it past a certain point. Just a few inches beyond that point it would grab. I watched the rooster tail of ice and mud the tire was slinging out in front of the car. I was attempting to back up the hill. There came a time when I saw how to do it. I just let the tire tear up that soft ice until it struck gravel. It wasn't long before just holding on and keeping it going got er done. Seemed like an odd predicament when I never had a problem on the snow and ice pack in the tracks. Down to the last film of original ice and it wet.

It felt so good to get out on the road and drive. The roads were clear and mostly dry. Beautiful landscape everywhere, the spotted landscape of snow and last years growth packed down where the snow melted. It's always a beautiful drive from my house to Sparta and back, all 3 ways of going to town from here. Today it felt like a minor freedom to be out on the road moving along through the landscape on a road that leads to every road in this hemisphere. Being housebound for so long, sometimes I feel like I'd like to go fill the gas tank and go somewhere, like to the Ralph Stanley museum in his home town, to Bristol to see the country music museum there with its focus on this region. It's only a few hours either way. Just to get out on the road to Mouth of Wilson, Marion, then interstate to Bristol alongside the mountain range with Whitetop and Mt Rogers the landscape out the side window. I believe there is a herd of buffalo along there, too, or was.

It would be a good time of year to drive up to Whitetop, to the top of the mountain where the old fir trees have died of acid rain. It's a beautiful place and a beautiful drive. The point where Tennessee, Virginia and NC meet can be seen from up there. One time at Whitetop the sky was overcast to horizon in all directions. An opening in the cloud let a ray of sunlight shine down onto that very point while I was looking at it. The mountain itself is almost tropical with mosses and ferns and small fir trees everywhere, big white rocks with moss on them and ferns growing around them. I love to walk among the trees at the top of Whitetop. One time I was there in fog and that was worth being there to see. Lush forest in the fog is an unforgettable experience.

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