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A loving ode to a slow road


JEFFERSON - There is a road in Frederick County, a gravel road that begins where development ends, and on this road, traffic does not slow people down.

On this road, chipmunks slow people, as they scamper from the safety of one overgrown ditch to another. Squirrels slow people, crossing the road, their cheeks stuffed with black walnuts for winter.

In the sky above this road, there are no hovering helicopters monitoring speed, no TV sky patrols reporting conditions, only the glide of a red-tailed hawk sailing through the dappled canopy of hardwoods.

On Poffenberger Road, things are as they were in the 1700s, and this is why some of the neighbors are trying to save it from ever being paved.

On this road, turtles slow people down as they inch from the shallowest part of Catoctin Creek to the stubble of the cornfield across the road. Here, a monarch butterfly can slow traffic if its wings catch the afternoon sunlight as it flits from thistle to goldenrod to jewelweed.

Frederick County commissioners will likely hear all this Tuesday, when they hold a public hearing about an effort to spare the county's remaining gravel roads. They will hear from Susan Hanson, a potter who converted an old feed mill on Poffenberger and leads the initiative. She will try to convince them what is worth preserving is the silence of snow on the road, the chatter of kingfishers and robins, the bumpity-bump of riding over wooden planks on an old iron truss bridge.

Commissioners have already heard the Division of Public Works explain how it's cheaper to maintain a paved road than a gravel one, what with grading and ploughs and potholes. If Hanson's grassroots effort draws a crowd, they may all hear the song her friend Tomy Wright wrote, his ode to a gravel road.

I am a road in Frederick County/

With gravel and tar,/

they want to stabilize me./

So I can be like all the others/

in the twenty-first century/

Some don't care/

One way or another/

A couple made me/

the focus of their work/

To opponents/

I'm a nuisance/

and just plain dirt.

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