Back roads

Wednesday September 12, 2012

Music Mountain Road climbs past the campus of the music festival. It's a high-banked country road lined with massive maple trees, and the leaves held the rich and slightly dry gold they only catch on September afternoons. I coasted to a stop while a family of wild turkeys filed across the road.

Then I turned left. The road narrowed to one lane, pass-at-your-own-risk, and the pavement gave way. I was easing down a well-crowned white-sand dirt road beside the railroad tracks.

The map had shown railroad tracks. But was I supposed to be driving between the railway and the river, so close that the road kept hopping across the tracks and back when the river came right up to the embankment and there was no room for a car between them?

The mapmaker may not have supposed it. I suspect my Google Maps directions didn't intend to send me down the access road for the railway repair crews, which is closed for much of the year. But "suppose" comes from the Latin verb "to place" -- and I was, even more than usual in these distinct mountains, in a place that was uniquely its own.

When I reached my meeting with the novelist Roxana Robinson, she mulled over how many places have lost much of their individual character. Here, however our character may change and vary, we have a lot of it. Here, even the main roads are more back road than highway.

I came north on Route 7 with a buttery scone from the Sheffield farmers market. A red sign says "Angus Books" where the Berks hire Book Company used to be, and I thought the bookstore had closed for good. It looks as though our character is hanging on.


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