In another life I was the first female truck driver at the local County Road Commission. I had an assigned territory and bladed and brined roads in the summer; and I bladed, brined and plowed roads in the winter. There was also the occasional guardrail work-crew assignment, mowing rural road shoulders in the fall so that the plows could get out there and throw the snow farther – all kinds of good shit.
For the most part, for that type of work – driving alone for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week – you need to really enjoy or be comfortable with just your own thoughts as company. In other words, it helps if you’re kind of a loner. I’ve never really associated that word, loner, with negative connotations like so many people do. Besides, I just call myself introspective – it sounds much more sophisticated. But, yeah, OK, when you get loner to the point of Ted Kaczynski there might be cause for a little alarm among family and acquaintances, but I never drove around recording my manifestos for posterity or anything. That’s what I blog for.
One of the benefits to the job was that I was almost always working on rural gravel roads and got to see a lot of beautiful scenery.
There was one road in particular where I saw two of the coolest things I have ever seen in my life, but at different times of the year. The entire gravel section was only a three mile, U-shaped loop – one mile east off the blacktop, north one mile, and one mile west back to the blacktop road. It was on those north and west sections that all the magic went on.
If you live on a gravel road you’ve probably seen the blade trucks go creeping by, scraping down the washboards, chuckholes, and ruts that traffic has created. If they do it right they slowly blade in both directions, scraping the gravel out towards the shoulders, then make two more passes at a higher speed, fanning the gravel they scraped out to the shoulder back into the road.
One early-summer day I was making my first pass on this loop of road, creeping along at probably eight miles an hour or less. As I approached the blacktop on the west leg of the loop I saw the gravel on the surface of the road, maybe 20 feet in front of the truck, bouncing and tumbling over and over. Now, this was a section that covered the full width of the road and ran roughly 15 feet down the length of the road, of dancing, tumbling gravel!
I stopped the truck and watched for a minute. I wasn’t about to drive that truck, fully loaded with ballast, through a section of road that was quivering and jiggling enough to make the gravel bounce and tumble around. I was, however, going to find out what the hell was going on.
I hopped down and started walking up the road and was getting more and more freaked because I couldn’t feel the road moving at all, and the gravel actually seemed to be moving away from me! Once I got close enough I could finally see what was going on. Literally thousands of thumbnail sized, fully-formed baby toads were moving from the pond they had hatched in, on one side of the road, to the drier area across the road.
I crouched and watched for 15 minutes or so. Fortunately, the whole section of road only had 3 or 4 houses on it because I probably wouldn’t have let a car go squishing through them when they were at their peak. They had mostly disappeared by this time, but I remember that I didn’t blade that small section of road that time around.
It amazes me that I didn’t ever carry a camera with me at that job.
The other incident happened in the winter so definitely didn’t involve any toads.
I was on the northerly leg of the loop moving along at a pretty good clip because I was plowing a foot or so of freshly fallen snow.
As I mentioned earlier, there were very few houses on these roads, and as I approached the curve to head west there was a large, open field. Out of the corner of my bleary, snow-blind eye, I saw a little black dot bounding across that field of pure white. At first I thought it must be a mouse running across the surface of the snow, but immediately realized it was going waaayyyyy too fast to be a mouse.
Again I stopped the truck and rolled down the window to watch.
Again I was confused by what I was seeing. A few feet out in front of the little black dot, puffs of snow were moving along at the same speed as the dot. This time around nothing could have pried me from the safety of that truck. All of the hideous, cold snow may have also been a factor.
The puffs and the dot made their way toward the snow bank on the side of the road, and when they broke out of the foot-deep powder it turned out that the snow puffs were caused by a poor, terrified snowshoe hare, in winter white, running for its life from a weasel, also in winter white except for a couple of inches of black at the tip of its tail – the mysterious bounding black dot.
I have no idea how that little drama played out. They both ran across the road and into the woods on the other side; however, the rabbit gained a little ground when I beeped the horn and startled the weasel. I know, I know – weasels have to eat, too, but I never claimed to be Mort Neff.