Thursday, September 27, 2018

Backroad Musings

When my youngest was a baby and the older kids toddlers, I used to load them all into the car – which back then entailed buckling three little ones into cumbersome car seats – and go for meandering late afternoon drives. We’d cruise the neighborhood by minivan, looking for farm equipment and horses along the way, so these tours became known as Pony & Tractor Rides.

The timing of these outings was entirely based on the littlest one’s need for a short snooze between naptime and bedtime. Things were just easier – for everyone – if she slept for 20 minutes, but the only way she’d sleep at that time of day was in a moving car.

Sometimes she’d be asleep before we left the driveway, and the ride could be a short one. Sometimes it took a couple of miles, so the tour was extended. Sometimes there was no sleeping at all. But there was quiet. At least that’s the way I remember it. And as any parent of small children knows, there is immeasurable value in a few minutes of quiet.

The path we followed changed a bit based on the timing and my whim, but we had favorite routes. Often, we drove out the Easton Valley, where we’d pass cows and tractors and the occasional hay wagon at Pinestead Farm and possibly an old grader or some other interesting piece of equipment near the Franconia/Easton town line. A right turn a bit further along would bring us up Sugar Hill Road, where we knew we’d likely spot a pair of old, retired mares and a couple of older, not yet retired John Deere tractors.

From there, we could pass by the Stewart Farm and look for more horses near the stables down the road. Or we could loop around and drive past the old Gibbs Farm, or turn onto Toad Hill Road and decide at the far end whether to go uphill or down.

Usually, we’d end up on Lover’s Lane, a road every bit as pretty as it should be with such a name. Back then, some neighbors there kept a small herd of goats, and we knew if we timed it just right, we’d see the goats being led back to the big red barn that sat down in the hollow at the base of an old meadow. Often, there was an antique tractor out in the field, too.

The barns, stone walls, and cleared fields are remnants of a more agrarian time. It seems impossible now that so much of a landscape that is forested was nearly treeless a century ago. As we drove, I was thankful for the quiet, but also for both the trees and the barns, the places for wild animals and tame ones to dwell – and for the many things to see that that would entertain the kids during these short outings that allowed us all to recharge.

In the funny way things have of cycling around, we’ve taken to embarking on the occasional late-day drive again. My husband, who started this recent trend, calls these jaunts Neighborhood Appreciation Drives.

The kids no longer need pre-dinner naps, of course, or help buckling in, nor do they have the same fascination they once did with John Deere Tractors – although they all know how to drive one now. But they are always eager to load up for a Neighborhood Appreciation Drive.

Sometimes we embark on a new route, visit some unfamiliar scenic outlook. Sometimes we stop so the dog can splash around in the river. Always we pull over along the side of a backroad to visit a trio of horses who come to the fence and let us pat their soft noses and dusty necks in exchange for handfuls of fresh grass and clover leaves.

These drives are less frequent than the Pony & Tractor Rides of years ago. They happen spontaneously, during pauses in busy schedules, usually during that magical time of day bridging sunset and moonrise, when colors shift in the sky and across the mountains.

When we turn onto the familiar road to home, just as I did when the children were little and we wandered back from our Pony & Tractor Rides, I often feel a same sense of calm. Perhaps this comes from the change of pace, the soft colors of the sky at dusk, the quiet time spent with my family. There is much here to appreciate. 

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her blog, Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the September 28, 2018 issue of the Littleton Record.

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