Sunrise across a deserted B6255 roadway, England

Roads have been rich fodder for artists over the centuries. Metaphorically or compositionally nothing can beat them. Their beds are set deep in our literature and our languages, where a shouted “Road trip!” is to some a sacred calling.
Appropriately, an empty stretch of highway illustrates the jacket of Larry McMurtry’s book Roads: Driving America’s Great Highways, which I recently finished. The reader who rides with McMurtry becomes passenger as he retraces the humbling expanses of the Great Plains and Texas or samples California’s thick urban traffic. McMurtry admits he likes to drive, and drive fast (pointing out that the mileage he covers is frequently flat), and he covered nearly a thousand during one day. Interstates are built for such head-down distances.

Other, slower travelers make their destinations over secondary roads, the wiggly blue highways in William Least Heat Moon’s book of the same name, where it’s still possible to drive through small towns, or what’s left of them. Many of these routes began as primitive tracks carved out by explorers and settlers, and McMurtry, too, felt their history and exhilaration when he crossed the top of the country on Highway 2.

Here in Oregon, my favorite road is Highway 31. It’s short (barely 120 miles), so there isn’t time to become bored. It’s scenic (whether Rand McNally says so or not). And it speaks to me, in sudden, unexpected whispers from a past that’s becoming harder to recall accurately with each passing year.

So I gladly ignore gentle ruts and errant potholes to have the company of ponderosa pines, so perfect in their placements, and the legions of finely-perfumed and under-appreciated sagebrush.

Sitting at this desk tonight, all I need do is close my eyes for a moment or two…


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