Gravel roads bring back many memories for me.
When I was little the busy five-lane paved street that now runs just feet away, next to my house, was a gravel road. I heard the distinctive rumble cars make on gravel every day while I played in the yard. My house was hard to keep dusted. The dust seemed to come in from every crevice, like the stories you hear from The Dust Bowl on the plains in the 1930s. I could see the particles floating in the shafts of sunlight through the windows, suspended and swirling.
My grandparents on my dad’s side lived on a farm in the country for years. I remember sitting in the backseat of the car watching out the window as we turned and drove up the gravel road that led to their house. I remember driving home down the country roads at night in the pitch black (no street lights in the country), headlights on bright, radio turned to AM baseball. As a really young child I found the contrast of the sound of the road and the radio against the silence and darkness of the night outside my car window soothing, yet just scary enough to be exciting on those long trips home.
I grew up around softball. My dad played when I was small. I ran around with all the other little kids who belonged to my dad’s teammates. Our moms kept a careful eye on us from the bleachers. I particularly remember a tiny clump of pine trees on the hill at Dill Field. It seemed huge to me at the time. All my little friends and I carved out paths around the trees and made up games to play together. If those trees still exist, I’m sure they would look tiny to me now.
When I was eleven I started to play softball in leagues. Anybody who has spent time around sports fields of any kind can attest to the fact that gravel roads abound. More so in my younger days than now, but still many sports fields are the pot of gold at the end of a gravel road.
That’s where I was last weekend. At a beautiful baseball field at the end of a gravel road. I no longer play ball myself, but have recently rediscovered my love of the game. Since I have no kids of my own to cheer on, a very kind friend of mine, who played softball with me when we were teenagers, has graciously allowed me to sit in the stands with her and cheer for her kids this baseball season. It’s been a blast. They are so fun to watch and I have truly become a fan.
I’ve also discovered a secret. As much fun as I had playing ball from elementary school through college, it’s just as much fun in the stands. In fact, as an adult blessed with 17 years of perspective since I last played the game, I must say I am having more fun as a fan. My friend and I definitely laugh as much in the stands as we did in the dugout when we were playing, but this time without the pressure you sometimes feel on the field and with the added benefit of a couple of decades of life experiences under our belts to help shape our views of the game.
As I got in my car to leave after the morning’s game a car drove by on the gravel road in front of me. The sound of the tires on the rocks, the smell and the sight of the dirt swirling in the air, the sounds of the next baseball game starting up, instantly took me back to those childhood memories of gravel roads.
I found them fascinating when I was little. I find them metaphorical today.
Gravel roads usually mean sparse population, so traffic is few and far between. They’re quiet and peaceful and calm, until a car comes by. Then the dust flies and the rocks shoot out in every direction.
Kind of like life. Quiet until something drives by and swirls up the dust and the rocks start to fly. For that moment you are enveloped in the cloud. It’s all you can see. But soon enough the dust settles and your road is quiet again. There may be an extra inch of dirt layered on everything in sight, but you either dust it off or learn to live with it. Either way you enjoy the quiet.
And every so often I think it’s a good idea to stop and really pay attention to the quiet gravel. A million tiny rocks each seen on their own may not look like much, but pour them into a line and you’ve got a road, sometimes quiet, sometimes swirled in a whirlwind of dust, but always purposeful. Just like a million tiny moments may seem like no big deal, but remember them all in a line and you’ve got your life, sometimes quiet, sometimes chaotic, but always purposeful.
That’s what I did this weekend. I was ready to leave, but it was just too beautiful. I sat and just paid attention for awhile. I heard a fly buzz by my ear. I noticed the trees against the sky. I watched the tall grass sway in the breeze. I smelled the dirt in the air. I listened to the distinctive sound of baseball bats hitting the ball and cheers from the bleachers.
I enjoyed the moment.
I remembered my past. I was grateful for the present. I looked forward to the future.
Pay attention to the individual rocks now. Every moment, quiet and chaotic, is forming a road you will someday look back on fondly.