It seems we’re always making things newer and bigger and better. But sometimes in the rush to advance we forget to appreciate the treasures around us. Perhaps I’m growing sentimental with age, but indulge me in this (true) story of a road and its girl…
Once there was a road. It wasn’t a busy road, nor was it fancy with bright, shiny paint or generous shoulders. It wasn’t even particularly well paved for that matter, and the sides sloped unevenly with the ground on which it was laid. It was precariously curvy, and there was a giant pothole just around the sharpest turn that often caused motorists to sputter curses in surprised frustration. The road was not well maintained because it was not considered especially important. Even though the occasional constituent would bring up “the condition of county thoroughfares,” the issue was placed at the bottom of the list simply as a matter protocol and council members never discussed it. Thus the road was bureaucratically neglected.
But the road didn’t mind, because left unmolested, its little cracks were allowed to split and rupture until the soil beneath was exposed and tiny blooms and blades of grass sprouted through the pavement. The road liked flowers, you see, because it was a country road, and it had always been rather self-conscious about disrupting such a pretty landscape. It thought about the flowers it had crushed and the trees it had unwillingly felled and the small animals it had displaced.
About this the road felt very sorry, and as it wound its way apologetically around fields and through the woods and along a small creek that sometimes dried up when there was no rain, it determined to be a sort of protector of the land. When speeding cars and clumsy moving vans traveled through the country, the sturdy road absorbed the impact and kept heavy-handed tires from slicing and scarring the soil. And when little boys would amble their way along the fields on Sunday afternoons, it defended unwitting buds and sprouts from being heedlessly trampled.
Not that the road expected to be praised for its efforts. Nor did it expect to be loved. Indeed, quite the opposite. Hurried motorists disdained the narrow road with its hairpin turns that made passing a strict impossibility. They skidded to sanctimonious halts at its homely one-lane bridges and waited with the air of four-wheeled martyrs when they were forced to surrender right of way to an oncoming vehicle, which was usually just as peeved by the delay. And schoolchildren who traversed the road on their way home from class would often tear giant chunks of crumbled asphalt from its shoulder and hurl them in the air so that the slabs crashed back onto the pavement, exploding into a thousand pieces and leaving deep gouges. But at this the road almost chuckled with glee, for at least the youngsters were not destroying the precious rocks along the creek bed, which the road knew served as cozy homes for some very small creatures. And at least no flowers were being crushed, which always seemed to be the most needless tragedy of all. In this way the road paid penance for its existence and was very content.
It happened one day that a young girl began to run on the road. She wasn’t very fast, nor was she especially graceful, but the road didn’t mind. She wore long soccer shorts and a ratty t-shirt that had a hole in the seam under the arm. Her shoes were not expensive. And she could run only twenty minutes on the road before she had to stop and walk. The little girl didn’t particularly like running—it was hard—but on Saturday mornings she would walk down the giant hill from her house to the idle intersection where the road began, and she would run. All summer long she did this until one day she could run three miles easily—and even more if she had to. Soon she enjoyed running so much that she ran every day, and each morning the road would wait patiently for the little girl to trudge down the hill so it could share the light, happy rhythm of her stride along the pavement. And before the road knew what had happened, it considered the little girl a sort of very dear friend.
Every day, year after year, the little girl ran on the road. She took great delight in all the things that made the road happiest. She loved the squirrels that scampered and the rabbits that hopped and the deer that leaped ahead of her. She loved the heavy, grassy smell of wet soil and leaves early in the morning before the sun had dried the dew. And she loved the tiny blooms and blades of grass that burst bravely through the cracks in the pavement. Of these the road was especially proud, and it waited eagerly for ungainly trucks to strain its surface and never resisted when mischievous boys ripped apart its shoulders so that its cracks would grow and multiply and new flowers would rise from the blemishes.
The road and the girl shared many secrets. The girl was always the first to return after heavy rains flooded the creek and the swollen waters and fallen trees closed the road to traffic. Splashing through miniature streams and climbing over giant branches made her feel very brave and adventuresome, which made the road feel quite special indeed. Businessmen would shake their fists at the closed road (as if it were the road’s choice), and local residents would suddenly be overcome with a holy obligation to remedy this great inconvenience (about which they had to be reminded annually). They’d scribble a petition for the city council to consider improvement. But the waters would soon recede, as would the residents’ indignation, and the item was soon forgotten, as it always was.
The road’s favorite time was in the winter when snow would cover it completely in white so that no one would ever know the road was there at all. But the little girl knew, and while cars sat stranded at either end (because no one bothered to plow such an inconsequential road), she would bound giddily through the snow, leaving tiny tracks in her wake.
The girl ran on the road when she was happy, when she was sad, and when she didn’t know what else to do. She ran on the road when she celebrated great accomplishments, like earning an A+ on her paper or winning a tennis match or receiving a college scholarship, and she practically skipped across the pavement. She ran on the road after her papa died and she had to stop to catch her breath because she was crying. And the road would listen and absorb her tears and wait patiently until she could start running again.
The little girl grew older. She started running much faster and much further than she did before, and she soon grew bored with the road. The road let itself crack and break so that it could grow even more flowers, but the tiny blooms no longer delighted her. The road stored up pools of water in the tiny craters where its pavement had caved in and collected piles of seeds and acorns on its furrowed shoulder, but she didn’t even notice the birds and squirrels and deer that found sustenance in the road’s bounty. She was much too serious for such things now, and she looked at her watch more than she looked at anything else.
The little girl began running on other roads—city streets and concrete sidewalks and paved paths through exciting parts of town. She began running on wooded trails that carried her over giant bluffs overlooking the river valley below. She began running on fast, expensive tracks and even began racing on roads that were closed just for runners—big roads with water stations and music and cheering crowds. All of these roads had much more to offer than just a small bloom growing from a tiny crack in the pavement.
But every day the road waited for the little girl to come trudging down the hill and begin her run. Some days she did. Some days she didn’t. The road was very sad on these days. The little girl ran less and less on the road until, one day, she stopped running there at all.
Now the road was very old. The crumbling shoulders were considered a hazard. The one-lane bridges were viewed as a nuisance. As were the craters with their pools of water. And even the precious cracks with their tiny blooms were deemed unsightly. The few cars that percolated up and down the old road on a daily basis were altogether inconvenienced, it was said, and the issue must be dealt with. Once more, the council put the road on their list of items to fix. But this time, the road did not fall to the bottom of the list.
That fall, pavers arrived with giant trucks full of gravel and asphalt. They came with blinking lights and beeping signals and crews of men. Day after day they worked. Scraping and pouring and smoothing and pouring some more. For months the road was closed. And then, just as quickly as they came, the crews gathered up their trucks and signs and barricades and left.
Some time later, the girl remembered the road. She got in her car and drove to the bottom of the hill, for she had moved several years before and had not seen the road in a very long time. She expected to see the familiar faded grey asphalt that was almost white from the sun, but instead was greeted by a shiny black surface. The road was wider now, and it was lined with sharp white paint on either side. She looked for the crumbling shoulders that used to catch acorns and seeds for the deer, but they were smoothed over with fresh tar. She looked for the craters where the pavement had sunk to create shallow pools of water for bathing birds, but there were none. She searched desperately for even the tiniest crack from which could sprout a single bloom, but the pavement was sealed and seamless. Even the one-lane bridges had been demolished and superseded with bulky, modern replacements.
The girl was very sad. She was very sorry she had stayed away so long. She almost didn’t even recognize the road anymore.
But the road recognized the girl, and it waited for her, like it did every morning, to trudge to the bottom of the hill to begin running. A teardrop fell from the girl’s cheek and onto the road. And the road listened and caught her tear and waited patiently until she stopped crying. Then the little girl returned to her car and pulled on her running shoes and began running. The road immediately recognized the light, happy rhythm of her stride.
Because once there was a road. It wasn’t a busy road, nor was it fancy with bright, shiny paint or generous shoulders. It wasn’t even particularly well paved for that matter. It was faded and cracked and very often forgotten.
But it had a little girl. And it considered the little girl a sort of very dear friend.
Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner. Her second book, Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story, will be released in 2014.