For those of you who love trivia, the photo I used for the home page of this blog was taken at Oak and Pine Alley near St. Martinville, Louisiana. The back story I was told about Oak and Pine Alley was about a wealthy 19th century plantation owner, Charles Durand, whose daughter was getting married on the property. He sent to China for millions of spiders and placed them in the trees you see in the photo. The spiders spun their webs throughout the trees and then the servants used bellows filled with fine gold and silver dust to create a shimmering canopy over the bride and groom as they rode away in their carriage after the wedding. I think I like it better just the way it is, but then again, I’m really partial to dirt roads.
My drive today took me to a dirt road I had never seen before and it was wonderful. Just a half a mile off the highway we turned on a tree-lined driveway that meandered back to a house that was invisible from the main road. The old farmhouse was perched on the side of a steep hill facing south with a grand view of all the farms below. I sat on the steps to the front porch just reminiscing about all my childhood days at my grandparents place in Minnesota and the dirt road that was part of my life back then.
My grandparents owned Portview Resort for 50 years from 1921-1971. Their house sat on the side of a hill about a quarter of a mile from the county road and we had to walk up the hill to the main road just to get the mail every day. Looking back on it, those walks with Grandpa were worth more than any class I ever took in college. My grandfather was a quiet, humble man who never wasted words but there was something about walking that stretch of sandy lane that made him want to share his thoughts. His ability to observe nature was something to behold and he never missed the signs of life that left their tracks along the same path. He showed me all the tracks left by raccoons, deer, skunks, rabbits, squirrels, snakes, dogs and cats and then he added useful little lessons about the animals and how interdependent we are with the world around us. Even being an avid hunter, he never killed anything for fun. He hunted to survive and he valued every animal for their place in the circle of life.
When he wasn’t sharing his views on life’s bigger issues, he made sure we noticed all the natural wonders that were present along the road. He knew where wildflowers were blooming, where the rain had washed off some new agates, where there might be some raspberries and where he needed to bring his shovel for a little roadwork before the next gulley washer. To him, that dirt road was part of his life and he wasn’t about to neglect it. He and my Grandma made sure that road was well-maintained by the county and every time the road grader plowed down to our property, Grandma greeted him with iced tea and cookies. She must have developed some kind of sixth sense because she always heard him coming, way before the rest of us.
I know it must seem funny now to those who never had this kind of experience but believe me when I tell you, there is nothing like it. We all leave footprints on this world. We all have the chance to smell wildflowers, eat fresh berries and cross paths with other creatures. But how many of us bother to take notice of the smallest details that make life infinitely more interesting and worth living? Every time I see a uniquely beautiful dirt road, I stop for a moment and take time to appreciate the fact that God gave me the ability to recognize his handiwork wherever I look. He didn’t have to invent agates but he did, just so every kid would have a treasure to hunt for and a reason to get dirty. That’s how much he cared about us and how much he wanted us to find happiness in simple pleasures, like holding Grandpa’s hand and carrying the mail back to the house.
If we really look at our lives honestly, a dirt road is a great metaphor for our existence. Each one is unique, it has twists and turns and bumps and ruts and muddy days as well as dry and dusty. It connects us with the main road that leads to the world beyond and to bigger things but it’s always there waiting to take us back to where we came from and to those who helped us along the way. Life is not meant to be lived at warp speed, blazing down the interstate with Starbucks in one hand, smartphone in the other and your knee doing the steering. A meaningful life doesn’t come in a cup and God doesn’t podcast. If we want to talk with God, we have to take walks with God.
If you don’t even know where to look for that dirt road, just ask an old guy like me. I will never turn down the chance to look for wildflowers, find a few shiny agates and pick the sweetest berries possible. Just don’t forget your old shoes because we’re going to get dirty. It’s funny how that works.
©Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.