Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Walking on yellow-line roads
The country road is a wonderful invention for walking, mostly. Your trail in the woods has no houses or cars, of course, and is delightfully quiet and peaceful. Your two-track dirt road, also usually through woods and pretty rare in these civilizing days, carries only the occasional vehicle and maybe one house at its end. Your country lane, dirt or tarred, is built for access to houses, however widely scattered, yet affords lovely woods and fields and vistas only occasionally interrupted by the automobile, and then it's usually a car belonging to a resident and therefore justified. One's problems start with those paved roads that carry traffic sufficient enough to warrant the central yellow lines.
Such a road can still be breathtakingly beautiful, with scenes of mountains or ocean or just a quiet meadow, and well worth walking. The contrast with loud, speeding, dirty cars, however, can be disconcerting. Not dangerous, mind you, not really. The yellow lines are usually double and unbroken, for these roads are typically hilly and curved, and the speed limit is on the low side, not that that limits some folks, and the vast majority of drivers do not try to pick you off as you walk the narrow shoulder.
I deal with the disturbing contrast by being grateful for most drivers' courtesy, and noting the the amount of space an oncoming car actually allows me. Some move completely over the double yellow into the opposite lane. Some more or less straddle it, still providing plenty of room. A few, just a few, make the minimum of effort, adjusting the steering wheel by a millimeter or two to give me the maximum rush of air and exhaust, perhaps even intentionally.
As I walk, I think of some kind of study to account for these varying amounts of courtesy, a study related to sex and age of driver, kind of vehicle, state of registration....But even these small numbers of variables are too much to hold in the brain at once, and while perhaps I'd like to tell you that the closest shaves are administered by young men driving pick-ups from Massachusetts, I just can't retrieve the data.
After some minutes of fruitless brain work, I shake myself and chide myself for ignoring this beautiful day. So often one retreats into numbers, or daydreams, or get-rich-quick schemes when faced with the ugly and the incongruous. How much better just to appreciate the courtesy, wave at the drivers, and take pleasure in the simple movement of the limbs. How much better to know this is the Emerald City, you've already reached it and the proof is in the stunning autumn flowers, the cool deep woods, the glimpse or two of Penobscot Bay, and even in the shining blue-and-silver can of Red Bull fallen in the ditch like a patch of sky.