The Road No Longer Taken

February 17, 1991|By Barbara Bass

The kids used to beg to be driven home that way. "Take us on the bumpy road," they'd cry. The road swerved and arced, and to my small ones, even taking the bumps and turns semi-slowly was exciting in our little Chevette.

I always took that road, even without the children in the car. Tall oaks and maples stood majestically along its sides. One house far back from the road peeked through the trees in the winter; a field of daffodils announced its presence in the spring. Farther down on the opposite side, remnants of a stone wall outlined the edge of a farm that sprawled across several acres. On the way to work early in the morning, I would take the road extra slowly, sometimes stopping to admire a red fox paused along its edge or listen to the birdsong that filtered down from above. The slants of light the sun sent streaming through the clouds made playful patterns as they spilled through the trees. I took the road home, too. I would make that right turn, pass under the highway, and in minutes be enfolded in the trees in that little piece of forest at the edge of the big city.

The farm disappeared first, the stone wall standing useless, marking the edge of nothing. Then the wall went, too, and next the trees that outlined the patchwork of fields. The ride to and from work became ordinary. I began to think of what lay ahead in my classes or at home rather than what lay in front of me on the road. Then the forest on the other side of the road fell victim, one tree after another bulldozed to make room for sweep after sweep of town houses. The raped landscape stood open and vulnerable while construction crews attacked it with their bulldozers and backhoes. The foxes and the birdsong disappeared. Soon large boxes appeared on the landscape, marching purposefully toward the very border of the bumpy road. All that remained was the little house in the midst of the woods, holding firm, holding off the intruders. Cringing behind the last stand of trees, it fended off the developments encroaching on three of its borders, a handful of its daffodils still waving, to traversers of the road in the spring.

Last to go was the road itself. "To Be Closed for Repairs on or About March 15" read the sign. We drove up once a week for a while to check progress, then at the end of April, then when we remembered. We found other ways to get where we had to go.

Now the sign is down. We pile into the car for a long overdue roller-coaster ride on the bumpy road. But once we arrive, we see something isn't right. On the left stand the new homes, on the right the town houses, but slicing through the middle is a brand new paved road, not a bump, not a curve in sight. Perfect. Flattened. We inch our way along, flattened ourselves, peering right and left for some remnant of our road. We don't find it. The noise of the engine startles a flock of mourning doves hidden in a stand of grass that lines a newly created drainage ditch. They fly off all at once, their wings churning the air, but they alight in the same spot. They have nowhere else to go. A bit farther and our hearts leap. In front of the house that still holds tight lies one small bit of unpaved road, a few filled-in potholes standing ready to bear the weight of the car. But the new Buick glances over the patch of old road without even a jostle.

"Take the beltway, Mom," says my son. "It'll get us there faster."

BARBARA BASS is a free-lance writer living in Baltimore.

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