Today I drove back to Charleston, down the all too familiar I-95. As I drove, I couldn't help but think about the roads in my life - no, not the one less traveled - but instead the familiar ones, the worn ones, the ones that have changed as I have walked down them, and the ones that have been almost forgotten. Interstate 95 is becoming all to familiar, since I've been trying to make short trips up to visit my mother as often as I can - heading north there is South of the Border, telling me that I'm about a third of the way home, the infamous radar at Lumberton - and then the large billboards for Cafe Risque (24 hours! topless! fun!) and The John Birch Society (get the US out of the United Nations!). Finally, the NC-VA border (welcome to Virginia!) and I'm two thirds home. Once I pass Richmond and move out of the Piedmont, the vegetation slowly starts changing with the elevation, and by the time I exit onto the 250-bypass and find myself on Pantops Mountain, looking down over Charlottesville, I'm virtually home. A drive through part of town takes me finally to the winding roads that lead me to my parents home of over 25 years.
The drive home is different now. As I drive I no longer wonder about what mom will be fixing for dinner, or about some place in Charlottesville that I want to go to, that I haven't been to in awhile. I don't think about who I might want to visit. The road home is a very different one in this world of lung cancer, and it's hard to not drift into the future, when the drives home will be even more difficult and eventually terribly sad. This trip was a good one, an easy one, and my brother and I spoke about how we just need to enjoy these weekends and to not think too far into the future. So my brother and I go for walks while we are home - walks down Fray's Mountain Road, a familiar road that has changed so much over the 25 years that we have been walking down it. At first it was a hard red clay road - a road that Faulkner would have admired - a road without much through traffic even though it connected two busier thoroughfares. For years we walked down this road during visits home, first thing in the morning, after dinner, before dinner - in the snow, we've gotten caught in the rain on this road and on ocassion, we even have run down it. My mother always joined us, until now - she was the most focused of the walkers but I always felt it was because she had grown accustomed to the views of the Blue Ridge and the cedars and the swan in the small pond. Living away from home, this road was a reminder of the natural beauty of the place, and a reminder of past visits. The road is paved now, a bit busier - but still beautiful. My brother and I still walk down it - he looks at me, says 'end of the road?' and I always know the road he speaks of.
There are other roads, long forgotten, worn. In the back of my parent's place is the remnants of a road that used to lead to the heart of my mother's family farm - a road that is now gentle and abruptly ends down a ways in the side yard of a new home. I've always like this little road (as do the dogs) - once, years ago, I built a small bench, just two wooden logs and a short board, that I placed about half way down the road - slowly the bench joined the rest of the branches that were also slowly joining the thick forest floor. During this visit, while my mother was taking a nap, I invited my father to join me for a walk down this worn road, perhaps now a path really, a walk in search of quartz rocks for me to take home to my garden near the sea. My father agrees and off we go, with a shovel, in search of rocks. We find one nice one, a few small ones - and like fish, we throw those back, as if they'll have a chance to grow just a little bit more in the years to come. The years that we no longer speak of.
During this trip my brother and I travel down a new road, really another old road that has been transformed over the years by development. So we veer off Fray's Mountain Road onto Fray's Ridge, where old red cedars which used to line another hard clay road now line a wide paved road - beautiful lines of trees that seem to go on forever. Much of this piece of land we were not familiar with, there were roads deep within the place that we had never walked down - and now that it had opened up, we were trying to imagine the old road and where it went - it was a long lane of red cedars, and the road must have emptied out onto the other side of the ridge from our parents home - now only a brick chimney remains of one of the farm's original homesteads.
But further down was a distinct lane, a wonderful lane lined in red cedars that lead to a place we could not see - and it made me wonder about this road so many years ago, lined in tiny red cedars for miles and I thought about how that family must have walked down their own road so many times and how they must have talked about how much the trees have grown and experienced changes in their family just like the changes that were occurring in their road. Today I thought about how these cedar-lined roads are the roads of my childhood - I find them perfect and beautiful - elegant and comfortable roads that make me know that I am home. I remember when I was young, racing down these roads on horseback with my best friend Barbara, never knowing to this day why we didn't break the majority of the bones in our bodies. I think about roads that I have lived on since I left home: Colby Lake Road in Michigan, a dirt road once again where the farmhouse I rented during graduate school resided - a road that when it snowed, we'd grab the dog harnesses and they'd beat us to the door - pulling us down the road on skis until either (1) we fell because we were going too fast or (2) we fell out of fear for our lives; the road in Florida that lead to the lab, a road that was built out of rocks that led to an island built out of more rocks that used to serve as a quarantine station for those diagnosed with yellow fever; and the road that I live on now that winds down to the coastal marsh, a road that one night was flooded during an astronomical high tide and when I stopped at the water's edge, I could see fish jumping all over the road's surface.