Sunday, January 13, 2008

Results of Prompt "The Seven"

As promised, my results from the prompt I last posted. My 7th place was a small town in Idaho, the 7th thing I remembered was the extremely wide roads running through town.

Exploratory Essay: The Wide Roads of Soda Springs, Idaho

The roads in Soda Springs are strangely wide. I do not know the exact historical reason for this, though I can make a few educated guesses. Mining occurs not too far out of town – you can see the red glow of slag running down a high point in the distance, if a local points in the right direction for your eye to follow. Likely the roads had to be wide enough for the trucks and equipment required for mining. This makes sense to me, but in the four days I spent in town I didn’t see a single large vehicle other than the all-American SUVs we brought with us on the drive from the airport in Utah. A good thing we chose SUVs instead of something more environmentally friendly – those gaping dirt roads would have been impossible to maneuver had it rained.

Those wide dirt roads haloed everything in dust, including the two worn-looking diners in town. I wonder if anyone had ever considered paving them (the roads, not the diners); certainly it had to be difficult to deal with dirt roads in the rain or other inconvenient weather. The roads contribute to the entire town looking like an inconvenience, since the space they require only serves to highlight how little else there is in the town. Diner one or diner two, a single hardware store (there might be more, but the rest of the buildings are all shabbily clothed and appear to be shut down for good). Paving them would make the town look more industrial than it really was, I suppose, but it would be less depressing than that empty span of soil trampled to concrete hardness. I have never lived in a town without properly paved streets, providing definition and a reassuringly firm foundation under daily life.

Did no one expect the place to last long enough to need the roads paved? It’s not a new place, by any means, nor decent enough to die out and let the buildings fall and let the roadspace win, since families have lived there for years without branching to other parts of the country, so that can’t be it. Unless the people told themselves they would leave – next week, next month, next year, after the baby is school-aged, perhaps. I didn’t meet enough people to ask about it. Even when there was traffic on the road (which was mostly us, in town for the wedding and wondering what sort of a place had spawned our girl Mazie), the road dwarfed the cars, making them seem small and inadequate for whatever task they were scurrying about. In light of the broad western sky and the mountains in the distance, perhaps this was an intentional reminder that our concerns and daily struggles are small. But I do not think so.

I always thought possibilities were ‘wide open,’ as the phrase goes, but those wide hard-packed roads in Soda Springs make me wonder if wide-open isn’t also the way a small town dies out, with too much room and not enough to fill it and make it habitable. I grew up in a city where everything was cramped: the buildings, the people, and the streets. There is a difference even in the word: street versus road. A street is citified, shrunken, and always paved. Civilized, somehow, and oft-traversed. A road, on the other hand, is a country thing, paved or not, with machinery just as likely to appear on its span as a passenger vehicle, or even the occasional cow.

Thinking about them, I found these roads disturbing, though I didn’t dwell on it during my visit. It was just a strange part of an already-strange landscape to me. Knowing that as a road, a facilitator of travel, things other than cars are implicitly invited to use them…what other massive things might take those roads as an invitation to walk through town? What thing that might have a footprint large enough to justify that girth? The country there is beautiful, with the mountains and no building taller than two stories to challenge the view…perhaps the roads in Soda Springs are large enough for God’s feet to pass. I imagine he visits mountains and forgotten people on a fairly regular basis.

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