Early Spring day, cloudy, cool, wind from the west. Every place else is too muddy, too wet, or still frozen. It’s the road or nowhere, so, ears and eyes open, I am facing traffic and tolting my Icelandic horse Kaldi south along the shoulder of the road.
I hear a car behind us and urge the horse on, preferring that he think about my demands rather than the car. It’s coming fast and passes with a rush of displaced air at perhaps 75. Kaldi’s ears twitch but he hangs tough. Now I see a car a half mile ahead and approaching. Kaldi and I bear down, moving right along. The car slows just a little and swings wide. The road hasn’t been posted yet, and I hear a gravel truck to the north. I steer the horse off the shoulder into the ditch and bring him down to a walk. The truck roars past, its drop gate banging as it hits a pothole. Kaldi flinches a bit but soon we are back on the shoulder—my good steady boy, still calm and easy. I hear a Harley ahead but can’t see it yet—it’s loud enough to hear over half the town. What I can see is a pickup approaching with…oh god, a trailer attached, an empty, rattling, bouncing trailer. And there’s the Harley now, coming fast, ready to pass the pickup—that should happen just when the pickup is even with us.
If it weren’t early spring, I’d steer Kaldi further away from the road than the ditch, but lingering snow closes off that option. We stand in the ditch, watching and listening as the truck and bike zoom by. I had hoped for a good half mile tolt without interruption. Not much chance of that on a weekday, early afternoon, on this road…
When we moved to 1221 Upper Oak Hill Road in the late Spring of 1973, it was not called Upper Oak Hill Road. It had many other names. The Post Office called it RFD 2. On its monthly bills CMP called it Zoar Hill Rd. Some people called it Oak Hill Rd, others The Frankfort Rd, others The Town Farm Rd. In Belfast, a person might have given directions here by saying, “Just keep going down High St, past the shoe factory, keep going, keep going, bear right across the railroad tracks, keep going about 9 miles, next house on the right after the Joe Dickey farm, and there you are.”
All different ways of describing the same address. Then there were no Google maps, no GPS, no terrorism that affected us, no 911 emergency number, and people generally didn’t take themselves quite so seriously (Today, there is no shoe factory, no railroad, no Joe Dickey farm....)
Whatever the name, all roads lead to 1221 Upper Oak Hill Rd.
Imagine an isosceles right triangle. Rt 141 squeezed between the cliffs and Swan Lake is the long leg, about 3 miles. Rt 131 running uphill all the way from the Swanville church to Town House Corners is the short leg, about 1.5 miles, and the Upper Oak Hill Rd along and then down Marden Hill is the hypotenuse, about 2.25 miles.
In 1973, living along that hypotenuse were the Browns, Mr Baldwin, the Dickeys, the Goldfines, the I-forgets, the Wagners, the Kellys, and the Woods. Eight houses. All of those houses, except the I-forgets, were built in the 19th Century. Except for the paving, ditching, loss of the elm trees, opening of a gravel pit, regrowth of some forest, and the collapse of several barns, the road looked in 1973 very much as it must have in 1873. Cars were a rarity in 1973, three or four an hour. We waved at cars. Our kids rode bikes in the middle of the road. When I cut down the big dead spruce alongside the road one Sunday morning and it failed to cooperate with my plans and instead fell across the road, I had plenty of time to cut it up and drag it off without a motorist arriving to witness my embarrassment. I could--and often did--ride a horse from Town House Corner to 141 without giving a thought to traffic.
In 2010, along that same two mile and a quarter hypotenuse, there are at least 40 trailers or houses, two of them multiple family dwellings (one carved out of the old town house, the other carved out of an old garage.) We don’t wave at cars any more. Bicycles are as rare as pedestrians, and when the powerline crews from Texas were cutting tophamper from the trees last summer, they needed two flaggers to slow the cars down even a little.
Kaldi and I are tolting again, down to just past the Dickeys, where nowadays the congestion of houses, cars, chainsaws, barking dogs, and noisy kids forces us to turn around. We cross to the west side of the road, facing north and I tell the horse to canter. He picks it up immediately and rolls right along—I’m wondering if Joe Dickey is watching us from the house where he was born in 1930. Joe farmed with horses as a boy and young man and still loves them. I hope the traffic does not drown out the sound of Kaldi’s hoofbeats because nothing in the world sounds as exciting, not the roar of a diesel engine, nor the throb of a motorcycle, not a car redlining, or any of the other sounds we can’t avoid on the Upper Oak Hill Rd these days, and I want Joe to hear those hooves.