Country roads, take me home

A good number of my posts lately have been about city people things like non-dairy cheese and Ikea furniture. I’m starting to feel guilty about it because the header of the blog promises Country Things, and inexplicably, people I don’t know are occasionally liking stuff on this blog now. They’re probably here for the moderately bucolic pleasure of reading about a stranger’s life populated by filthy ranch dogs and charming, useless chickens who still won’t lay eggs, so, far be it from me to deny my audience what they’ve come for.

I chose Life, love, dirt roads, dogs as the tagline for the blog because all of those things impact my life on a daily basis. Most of them you’ve heard about already, with the exception of the dirt roads. Let me tell you: the dirt roads are a thing, and they have a profound daily impact on life.

I grew up in the suburbs, and TTH is my first residence off the pavement, so I can safely say that I was totally unprepared for the sheer amount of dirt involved in dirt-road living.

There is dirt all the time.
Everywhere.
On everything.
ALL OF THE DIRT. ALL OF THE THINGS.

Our home was built to connect us with the splendor of the natural world by letting comfortable temperatures out and uncomfortable temperatures in, and along with the weather (and spiders) comes truly spectacular amounts of dust from the nearby roads and fields. My desk is dusty. My computers are dusty. Joshua’s desk, and its houseplant of ridiculous scale, are dusty. The small Yoda figurine that lives in Josh’s ridiculous houseplant is dusty. The dishes we store under our “kitchen counter” (which is actually a work bench from Harbor Freight Tools) are dusty, and have to be cleaned prior to use. Our washer and dryer are dusty. If you picked a thing up and set it down in this house for longer than two minutes and twenty eight seconds, I guarantee it will have dirt all over it. I try not to touch the house’s decorative objects such as my bookcase knickknacks, teapots, or pottery very often, because if I disturb the layer of dirt surrounding them, I won’t be able to continue ignoring the fact that they need to be dusted.

The Tiny Tiny House was built in the 40s, back when America hated women and made this clear by designing homes to catch as much dirt as possible. While I love my quirky architectural details and have made resigned peace with the decrepit double hung windows, there is no doubt that all of these built-in features around the windows, doors, and baseboard catch — you guessed it — more dirt. To the probable horror of Josh’s mom, we recognize the superior force and inevitability of dirt road entropy. We usually turn a blind eye to all the dusting we don’t actually have to touch on a daily basis, until someone’s coming over. Then we enter a mad cleaning frenzy, buzzing around the tiny house like attractive yet frantic bees in a small, dusty bottle, trying desperately to beat the clock and fool our visitors into believing we don’t live in squalor.

This is probably not horrifying to my mom, because she’s not so much the Queen of Clean as she is the Queen of Moderate Tidiness, and that’s where I learned housekeeping from. The cleaning frenzy tradition is an important part of it, and the other important part is a secret I’ve only now come to appreciate: dusting sucks, so that’s why you make the children do it. When I was young, my mom would ask me to dust a cabinet housing a variety of small ceramic cat sculptures. I had to take them off the shelves, wipe the shelves, and dust the figures themselves, lovingly cleaning off their little ceramic faces with their painted whiskers and their sightless eyes, expressions just as bored and empty as real cats. At the time, I thought this was because my mom loved and trusted me with the most precious contents of the Kitty Cabinet, above and beyond all other potential applicants for the position. As an adult, I appreciate that she had me do it because ain’t nobody got time to dust that fiddly shit, and I was the person least likely to catch on that it actually sucks. She also had me crawl around under the dining table and dust the table legs under the pretense that I was the only one small enough to do it. I can’t resent that. I can, however, hand Swiffers to Josh’s offspring, and in this way I shamelessly perpetuate my mother’s tower of dusting lies.

While the dirt roads make themselves known indoors via dust and the manipulation of children into slave labor, the roads also (obviously) make themselves known whenever we leave the house. There is only one way in and out of the area where TTH is located, with farm fields and ditches on either side of the road. The fields have been heavily worked and rotated since we moved in — they’ve grown tomatoes, cabbage, raspberries, now cilantro and strawberries. Water from the irrigation drips into the road, eroding massive, wet pothole puddles into the surface of the hard packed dirt.

When we first moved in, the potholes weren’t as big of a deal. They existed, but after a few trips up and down the road, Josh and I both got a feel for where the worst spots were and how to zigzag the cars around them, autocross style, without breaking the suspension or ending up in the drainage ditches on either side of the road (my dad helpfully informs us from time to time that driving into the ditch “will really mess up your car”). Time and tide and agricultural waste water and my road wait for no man, however, and over the months, we started to notice the landscape of the holes changing. It was becoming harder and harder to dart around the obstacles, as previously-established pathways became unusable in a mire of mud and tire tracks and puddles of alarmingly uncertain depth. There are now no good ways around the potholes, and every bumpy, jarring trip up and down the road is like an adventure in Oregon Trail. Should I ford the river, or caulk the wagon and float?

I think the potholes are taking a serious toll on the suspension and alignment of my vehicle, but a much more obvious sign of dirt road automotive abuse is how impressively filthy my car is. Now, those of you who know me are aware that I’ve never been known as a diligent car washer, and did once have my silver car shamefully recorded as ‘brown’ on a traffic ticket. My dad, while proud of me for being just the smartest, prettiest thing that ever walked the earth, believes my character and lifestyle could be significantly improved with a cleaner car. Sometimes he sits alone late at night, weeping gently into a glass of coke and evil-tasting independent distillery whiskey that I left at his house, wondering how any child of his automotive heritage could have come out so wrong. And even so, even so, I had no idea my car could get this dirty. A film of fine, silty dirt is spread thickly and evenly over its entire surface. It has splatters of dirt all over the doors and windows, from charging through the aforementioned potholes of uncertain depth. It has stalactites of mud growing from the wheel wells, which is to say that my car has dirt on its dirt. Cleaning it seems pointless when the dusty wind and mess of road holes dirty it up again before I can even get to and from a paved street. So, like the dusting, I let it slide. Even Josh, noble knight of outdoor chores his woman refuses to tackle, has somewhat given up on the car washing. It makes sense to us… and no one else. We live in a strange, anomalous rural pocket among ever-increasing suburbs, and once we do get back on asphalt, there is no apparent explanation for how my car got so dirty in the more obvious main landscape of our town. I get looks, awed and fearful, like people are afraid my car might be contagious. People drive a little farther away. Mothers clutch their children close in parking lots, lest the darlings be tempted to write obscenities on my car windows, which are so obviously ripe for it. I feel solidarity with people driving down the freeway on their way back from what’s probably a camping trip or deep-wilderness drug sale/body disposal excursion, because they’re the only other cars in a state remotely comparable to mine.

When Josh’s parents visited us for the first time, all this dirt was the first thing they commented on. “It’s so dusty here!” It certainly is, and it can be a real pain in the ass. When strangers in parking lots comment on the state of my vehicle (“Do you not know where the car wash is?“), I’m filled with righteous indignation, of course. But I also feel a little bit smug, because we love it here, and we feel like we’re the lucky ones. When you live on dirt roads, you have to be willing to get your hands/cars/house/kids dirty — and I would recommend it to anyone, extra dusting and all.

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