Road Sounds

The dream of small towns being miles off, cities being hundreds of miles off, hearing none of their road sounds or the blustering voices of their inhabitants, that dream belonged to my grandfather. He wanted to walk out onto his porch in early light, sipping coffee, and hear nothing but the occasional noise chickens make when wrestling breakfast from the soft ground above the creek. By then, the roosters would have hushed their wake-up calls and whatever night critters had been scuttling around had long since gone off to bed. His dream was dark nights turned daylight unpolluted by traffic or socializing with people who liked to make traffic. People who liked car radios, guzzled fuel and convenience store snacks, and always seemed to find places to go to later complain about.

He wanted none of it. He claimed this was perfection, but still considered moving out past his quiet green hills upon discovering a “neighbor” had gotten the gumption to start building fences and running a tractor just a mile away. We were concerned he wouldn’t get over the insult.

Being out there frightened me, thrilled me, centered me. The trees were full of racket at nightfall, not always musical. And beyond the creek, where sunlight never dared to drip down, came threatening feline screeches that froze my blood. Those screeches made my grandfather laugh softly. Whatever animal could make such blood freezing noise, though unseen, unnamed as far as I knew, gained his admiration. He liked the mystery of it, the threat, and didn’t have to warn me twice to stay within sight of the house. His land was wild, bounding with the kind of quiet he cherished. A property split in half by a skinny dirt road no one seemed inclined to travel, and if they did, oh Grandpa made sure to watch their taillights until they disappeared for good. He’d more likely invite one of those screeching wildcats onto his porch than wave at passersby.

I still remember the scent of the soil. The feel of that creek water, wintry cold even in the leaden heat of August. I remember the feel and scent of sweat wetting my face and forearms as I climbed tree limbs, or tried to walk carefully between the rows of a summer cornfield. To say those memories are precious is an understatement. To say that I still love the scent and feel of rich black soil and my own sweat is absolute truth. How I would love to be there now, as an adult, listening to chickens feed themselves and wondering what thing hid beyond the darkness of the creek bed as I put seedlings into the ground right on the spot where he once had his garden.

I do wonder what Grandpa might think about my equal love for city life. The rush rush and abrupt halts, the voices, the bridge lights and tall buildings and narrow streets. At this moment I’m listening to cars rounding the bend of Riverside Drive, way too fast. Rain has fallen for almost twelve hours, nonstop, and the sound of speeding tire rubber splashing past reminds me of marching band cymbals. Exuberant road sounds punctuate voices carrying from the sidewalks and parking lot, laughter sometimes, sometimes arguments, complaints, conversation via speaker phone. Saxophone music, blues guitar, birdsong, motorcycles growling, the screech and whine of sirens. It’s all mine.

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