There is a pink road that leads me to our house in the hills. I guess I always call it pink, but for those of you who are picky about color choices, you could refer to it as a salmon or a coral I suppose. Anyway, this pink road, or red road, or coral road is surfaced with a rock the locals call scoria. Scoria, or what the smarty pants geologists label clinker, is a form of natural brick formed in the landscape by strips of once burning lignite coal. (And that’s probably the only scientific fact you will hear from this woman for a long time, thank you very much Google).
Anyway, I always thought it was stunning–the vibrant road that winds its way through a landscape that changes from green, to yellow, to gold, to brown, to gray, to white and then back again. And just like the landscape changes, so does the road it seems. In the spring it is at its best, perhaps because we missed it so much, buried under all of that snow for months. It slowly appears a vibrant, soaked deep maroon color digging its way out of the banks, emerging from under ice and puddles of mud. I splash around in it and, with windows rolled down, I zoom out of the yard and over the hills and off somewhere. As the sun warms up the world and the season changes to summer, the once soaked and cold road becomes hot under the rays and turns from deep red to a hazy pink as the rocks break up under the weight of our tires and our feet and the hooves of wild beasts. I drive slowly out of the yard, trying not to disturb it as a tail of dust stretches out behind me.
And then a summer storm passes through, and it looks like God took his favorite, sharp red crayon and drew a nice thin line right down the middle of the neon green grass and dark blue, rolling thunderheads off in the distance. Down through the cool draws and up on top of clover covered hilltops it bends and straightens, leaps and lands and stretches its arms, like the land is the road’s personal dance floor.
And I am the charter member of its fan club.
Because you may pass by it on your way to town, or to the lake, or to your relative’s farm, and not even glance at the subtle invitation to take a little trip with it. But I have will never refuse it again.
When I was really young, like four or five, I lived with my family in Grand Forks, ND. On my favorite weekends I would be lifted into my dad’s pickup by my little armpits and I would sit proudly alongside him as we made our way across the piece of pavement that stretched a good five or six hours across the great state and out to my grandparent’s ranch–our ranch. At four or five everything seems bigger and every travel adventure seems further and longer than it is in reality. When I was certain we had been in the pickup at least fifty-six hours, it was then I would start looking for the pink road that signified our arrival. With my nose smooshed to the window, I would watch for the white line to break and open itself up to the approach that welcomed me like an old friend.
“Are we there yet?”
“How much longer?”
“When are we going to be there?”
And when we arrived on that stream of road, even at four or five I could breathe a sigh of relief, because even then, the road meant home to me.
But it also meant so much more. It meant comfort and adventure and family and my grandmother’s arms wrapped tight in a hug.
When we moved out here permanently as a family when I was in second grade, there was no more waiting and looking and asking when were we going to get there.
We had arrived.
And the road held my hand like an old friend as I wobbled on my first ten speed bike and followed it up the hill to my best friend’s house. It soaked up the blood from skinned knees and tears from lost dogs and hurt feelings. It created space between hurtful words exchanged among three very different and very frustrated sisters. It eaves dropped on my quiet, made up songs, scuffed my new shoes and laughed as the bottle calf chased us home from the barn after a feeding. It smiled sweetly as it lead me back to my mother after a couple short stints of running away. It welcomed me off of the school bus and happily took the brunt of my skid marks as I learned to drive.
And then slowly, the road began to change, taking on an entirely different meaning as I grew from a young girl to a teenager. Without me really noticing, it began to mean more to me going out than coming in. It meant escape, freedom, independence, civilization, relief and a chance at love. It didn’t recognize me anymore as I came and went in the mist of the early morning and the shadows of late nights. I didn’t frolic as much, but instead began to sneak and sulk and stomp. I brought strangers home and they littered its ditches and the grass grew around my bicycle as I stepped on the gas to my new life and wasn’t so quiet about kicking up its dust.
But when the time came to leave, to really leave this place for a good long time, I closed the door to my bedroom, hugged my parents goodbye, filled my trunk with memories and followed my old friend out into the world.
From the corner of my rearview mirror, I smiled a bit as the road waved at me from the hill top, always the last to say to say goodbye.
And the first to welcome me back.
So I am thinking about the road today because I think I owe it an apology. Because I feel a bit like an old friend who hasn’t picked up the phone to say hello for ages and then suddenly stops in for dinner, without warning. I want to bring it a casserole in Lutheran Lady fashion in an attempt to make amends and let it know that I am older now. That I understand.
Because I realize, in this moment, that I have learned something from this road after all of those years of watching it dance. See, the road never cut through a hill or plowed down the trees. It moved with the curve of the land and under the rhythm of our feet and trusted that it would meet up in the right way with something–a fork, a bend, an endless horizon–in the end.
The road trusted so much in the path it was taking that it changed color and texture to blend and bend and take the heat of our tires and our words and our plans to leave. It understood that just like the landscape changes, so do the seasons of the human spirit. And even as I spit on and kicked its stones and turned my wheel off of its path, my entire life the road was just trying to tell me to follow my feet.
So I am thankful today. Thankful for the road. Because after changing my shoes a few dozen times, knocking down doors, banging my head against the wall, digging holes in the dirt, speeding lazily along the interstate and sticking out like a water tower on the horizon, in all of my despair and frustration I closed my eyes tight and saw the road, waving like it did so many years ago.
And I finally stopped stomping and looked down to find my feet dancing on pink stones.
Listen to “This Road”-Jessie Veeder Live at Outlaws