*Some of the stories shared on this page will probably never be seen in the literary magazines. However, I feel that they have some value and I’m glad to share them with you. “The Long Dirt Road” is the beginning of a series that appeared on my Facebook last year. These stories are about growing up in the Maine woods in a cabin at the lake without electricity or running water in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. Writing them brought me back to that time and I was able to re-capture some of the thrills and the challenges faced. I hope you find some thrills in reading them. (the photo presented is an actual photo of me during that time)
The Long Dirt Road
Part One: A Story of Summer
By Kristy Gherlone
There’s a road that inhabits a fair amount of space in my mind. I call it forward whenever I need a smile. I close my eyes and suddenly it’s there. Long and narrow, wash boarded and potholed. When I was a child, it was as familiar to me as it was a mystery. While the road itself didn’t change, the scenery often did. I never knew what we might see as my dad and I drove along.
Sometimes there were moose. They’d come crashing out of the woods, shaking their heads and twitching their ears, crazy from the black flies and heat. They’d stomp all gangly legged in front of us before turning to trot back in again. I felt bad for them. They were tormented by bugs in the summer, and up to their bellies in snow during the winter. I used to try and convince my dad to build houses for them to escape to.
If we were lucky, there might be a black bear nibbling raspberries in the dusty bushes that lined the sides, but they were either shy or snobby. They didn’t care for company, and would bound off as soon as they heard us coming. To see one was a real treat.
I’d scan obsessively for bull frogs all along that road. They’d sit in the puddles, snapping up flies. I could spot their glassy eyes protruding on the murky surface a mile away, but they would always dive under as we neared, sending ripples in their wake. They couldn’t hide from me. I’d go back later to collect them. Knee deep in mud catching frogs was my life!
I remember rolling down the window on the gold Custom Deluxe truck.
I used to poke my head out and breathe in the powerful, tangy scent of pines. To this day, that smell makes me happy in a way that can’t be duplicated. The stream that ran along most parts of the road rushed restlessly in the spring and trickled lazily in the fall. Its smell was both boggy and clean as we drove over it on the old splintered bridge. I used to dream about the fish I’d catch in there the next time I had the chance and then I’d hang out as far as I could and try to spit far enough to hit the water.
I’d reach out when we came to the clusters of sapling trees and let the leaves tickle my palm. Every now and then I’d find a big one and tear it off.
Dad would say, “You know what that is, don’t ya? It’s woodsman’s toilet paper!”
I’d watch for the brown wooden sign that said ‘You are now entering Indian Purchase land.’ I used to envision a whole tribe of Native Americans coming out of the woods. Their bows and arrows would be poised and ready to stop us from going further.
And then I’d see the tree that stood at the entrance to our turn-off. It meant we were almost to our destination. It was a gorgeous tree, towering well above the rest. Its leaves blazed orange before turning fiery red late in the season. I could hardly stay in my seat with all of the butterflies jumping around in my belly.
In June that road seemed a thousand miles long! We could never get to the end fast enough, but only because it led to Summer’s treasure box. Camp!
Three whole months of fishing, swimming, bike riding and frog catching fun. There would be games of monopoly, and log hopping around the cove. I’d blaze trails through the forest! I’d sit on the big gray rock, high above the lake, and watch for shooting stars at night. The possibilities were as boundless as my energy.
In late August that road seemed barely a mile. It went too quick! I was sure the very trip would ruin my life. Traveling south, it led back to town. School and dance lessons. Homework and bedtimes. Yuck!
In reality, the road was no more than eight or ten miles, but I’ve traveled it so often it might now add up to a million.
Of course, these days, I mostly travel it in my mind, but it’s definitely a road that’s worth the journey.