Boundaries

This autumn a great change came here. Once, the dead-end road which winds through the old fields and forests leading to our land was a lane, barred, I’m told, by eleven farm gates. With the coming of development to the former spreading farm, a professionally designed and built road of sand and gravel replaced this long-used way. All along, we knew that the agreement with the township was that the developer would install a paved surface to complete this road, and, at summer’s end we watched as a ribbon of sleek asphalt was swiftly laid.

In some ways I welcome the new road, which was built to last twenty-five years. I rejoice in the quiet and lack of dust. I certainly don’t miss the washboard waves which bounced me around before. What’s more, I’d have to admit that walking the road as I do each day is safer, with no more skidding on gravel, although I miss the feel of the earth beneath my feet. I also miss the occasional work of the graders, local men for whom maintaining a dirt road was a craft.

There are so many ways to consider this simple piece of road-building. Environmentally, I’m sure asphalt creates problems. But so too, does maintaining a dirt road. I wonder how costly repeated crushed stone supplements are to the landscape. Already the ugly gashes of quarries scar too many local hillsides. The skilled men who drove the heavy graders will lose work, while dollars are saved on salaries and equipment. I’m told that paving will make snow ploughing easier and hence our road will be safer and more accessible, but I also am aware that these improvements will tempt drivers to faster speeds. This is a problem that leads me to thinking of the victims of this intervention.

Right now, though, what troubles me is how this new firm surface severs natural traveling lines for the creatures of our area. As I walk the smooth new road, I am seeing unprecedented roadkill. With sadness I am discovering a litany of the dead–millipedes, red efts, worms and snails lie crushed. Will these creatures learn to accept this dangerous broad intervention? I doubt it. In the midst of this abundant waste, the sharp-shinned hawk who occasionally raids our bird feeders cuts by, on her way to a lakeside pine. Dangling from her mouth is a snake, likely one of the many seduced by the black road’s warmth.

My comfort is in the tenacity of ants, such tiny creatures to be altering the landscape already. Everywhere, with their turned-up mounds, they are forcing their way through the immaculately graded and compressed roadsides, reestablishing their traditional networks.

About Peri McQuay

Peri Phillips McQuay is the author of Singing Meadow: The Adventure of Creating a Country Home, The View From Foley Mountain, a book of nature meditations on her experiences living for 30 years at the Foley Mountain Conservation Area and A Wing in the Door: Life With a Red-tailed Hawk is the story of her adventures with Merak, a human-imprinted hawk, who lived free but saw McQuay and her family as her special people. Also Peri has written numerous essays, articles, book reviews and a weekly column, published in the Kingston Whig-Standard Magazine. Her credits include Country Journal, Harrowsmith, Bird Watcher’s Digest, The Snowy Egret, Seasons, The Fiddlehead, Herizons and Brick.
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