Monday, June 22, 2015

The Perks of the Road Less Traveled (In the Category of Be Where You Are.)

Ellett Road As Seen On Google Maps
My BFF called me at a few minutes after 7:00 am this morning to warn me that my normal commute, the 460W bypass between the town where I live and the town where I work, was a parking lot, the result of a car accident. Minutes before I was to depart, my husband, who leaves before me due to a slightly longer commute (nine miles to my five), called to confirm BFF’s report and add that town was also now crawling with traffic. Word of the backup was making its way around, and folks savvy enough to take the business route were doing so. “You can’t get there from here,” he said.

There are few roads between the town where I live and the town where I work, but I know them all. My favorite is the two-lane country road that cuts through Ellett Valley, a small patch of heaven tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It winds along the path of Wilson creek as it flows toward the North Fork of the Roanoke River, over bridges, under bridges, around hairpin curves, all beneath glossy green eaves. Houses and farmland intermingle. Between them both, there is space. I know this road well. It was once my daily commute, and, should I choose to get up a little earlier and leave a little sooner, it still could be. I usually sleep.

But today, traffic snarled in the two most obvious directions, I went the opposite way and took that two-lane road less traveled, the long way to town, because at least my wheels would keep spinning, not sit idly in a traffic jam. With my choice, came unexpected perks – encounters I usually don’t have on my morning commute. For example, I hadn’t even made it out of my suburban neighborhood before I had to yield the right of way to a beautiful doe and her even prettier spotted fawn crossing the road. The fawn, all legs, had to work twice has hard to keep up with graceful Mama Doe. Suddenly, I no longer grudged the eaten day lilies in my front flower bed. Perhaps the little one was hungry....

As I made my way through the valley, other fauna joined me. For a short time, a juvenile male northern cardinal flew along side me before winging across the creek. As I slowed for a curve, a brown rabbit hippity-hopped in front of me, and I broke all the rules, swerving to avoid its fluffy white tail, grateful the road is rural and that no traffic occupied the other lane. A few minutes later, I foolishly repeated this process to spare the life of a gray squirrel. With the sun roof open – it’s the cool of the day – birdsong competed with the sounds of NPR on my car radio; the bluebird’s chirp chirp chirp tweeeeeee has become familiar to me, language lessons from the nesting pair in my back yard. White lambs littered a lush green field on one side. Two horses and a donkey stood munching a roll of hay on the other.

I began to climb the hill into town, and a passing bicyclist nodded at me as he headed around a curve and down into the valley. I wondered about his path. Would he turn right and follow the road back the way I had just come, see the lambs and miss the bunny? Would he bear left, follow the road around to Luster’s Gate – it’s the less hilly route. Would he follow the main road straight on to other curvy paths less taken? Not that it mattered much – all his choices end with a steep ascent out of Ellett Valley, a leg-breaking pump action that I could never imagine attempting. I envied him briefly, though, the wind in his face, the coolness of the morning surrounding his limbs even as the haze began to burn away, promising the day’s heat to come.

Later, if it rains, steam will rise from the road, followed by fireflies and the moon  — nature’s street lights. The valley will lose itself in comfortable darkness save for an old pickup truck with one headlight to pierce the night and illuminate the way.

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