Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of occasional columns by writer and photographer Tristan Roberts.
I drove back-and-forth this Friday from Keene, N.H. to Springfield, Vermont.
A quick round trip to a farm on the state highway and I-91, but on the return trip I felt empty. My morning had been gutted by two hours of driving.
I noticed a sign pointed down a little back road leading to a cheese farm, but at that point I just wanted the drive to be done. Not to slow down or stop.
But I kept looking at this side road as it approached. And I said okay, I can spare five minutes for cheese. Melted please.
It was River Road on the New Hampshire side of the terrace above the Connecticut River. I grew up on a road very much like it in upstate New York, with farmland on both sides.
The cheese place was not welcoming so I skipped it. But just after that I saw a dam (horse mom) nursing her young colt in a little run-in.
I thought about how I would never see a baby animal nursing alongside the state highway. It’s too big, too noisy.
You see things on the main road like climbing lanes, and black exhaust in the air. You see signs for Kiwanis, Rotary Club and Lions Club. You see big swaths of cleared forest for power lines. You see strip malls next to gravel pits.
You see a bag of trash on the shoulder and wonder if it fell off someone’s load, or was dropped on purpose. Could be either.
You wouldn’t put a baby horse and his mom next to a busy highway.
Wendell Berry wrote some lines in a poem about caring about the conditions under which a mother would care for a child.
Here they are:
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade.
There are some things you find on the highway, and some things you need to go on backroads for.
As it happens there’s a plant called coltsfoot that can grow out of a crack between a foundation and a parking lot in Keene.
It pops out of the ground in early spring with yellow flowers. Those and their fluffy seed heads are long gone by now.
Then there’s the broad-leaved helleborine, an orchid that you’re not going to see while walking to your car from your office. This orchid is known for being so attractive to wasps that it intoxicates them. Nectar from helleborines in Europe were found to have naturally occurring oxycodone in minute amounts.
Go to the back roads for these secrets and more!
If you’re reading this column, I welcome you to the back road.