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The beauty of dirt roads - Rhonda Rich

There is something about dirt roads that whistle to me like a siren's call. A dirt road beckons and I answer. I cannot resist its allure.

I guess it is, first, the land, the soil I love so much. Rural Southerners are like that, you know. But then, it is the simplicity of dirt roads and how they hearken back to less complicated times, that is intoxicatingly soothing to me.

When I built my house, it called for a long drive -- a road, really -- leading from the black top into the garage. It is almost a thousand feet long. I had concrete poured a sufficient way from the house then stopped a ways from the spring that runs under the drive. The rest of drive I left dirt, for I thought it fit the surroundings. And it fit me. Since then I have put in enough gravel to have paved it, but that matters not to me.

I like my dirt road. Even when the summers are hot and dry and the dust paints my car each time I tear away down it. Even when the rain falls so hard and so long that I can't skirt the mud holes and I have to run straight through them. I love the soothing sound of gravel crunching under my wheels, and somehow it looks just perfect for the family of rabbits that live in the pasture near the creek to scurry across the dirt road as I approach. A wild rabbit hopping across cold concrete seems like a parody.

Mama worried that I didn't have enough money to completely pave. She prayed that my fortunes would increase, and one day I'd have the money to concrete the road all the way out to the black top.

"Now, I want you to save your money so that you'll be able to pave it completely," she'd say from time to time. "That's all you need to make your house perfect."

"I don't want it paved. I love a dirt road. I like it just like it is."

She pursed her lips and shook her head. "That's crazy. Just plain crazy."

Should anyone ever decide to name a road in my honor -- they do that a lot where I come from -- a highway, byway or busy interstate just won't do. It'll have to be an old dirt road, a back road that leads to nowhere special. One that winds through the simple countryside and takes a humble bow to the pleasures of quiet nature.

Aunt Kath told me the story of when I was two or three and was all dressed up in my frills, lace and petticoats after church. We were visiting at my grandparents, up in the mountains and I was outside playing. Yard chickens had scratched out a hole in the front yard and thanks to a recent rain, it was a big mud hole.

"We looked out the window and there you were, just stomping up and down in that mud hole in your pretty little dress, them lace socks and patent shoes. Your mama just laughed and said, 'Leave her alone. That's the first time I ever saw her dirty.' Bout that time, you just sat flat down in the mud hole and laughed happily."

Dixie Dew and I sometimes borrow my friend, Kim's, mountain house. It's tucked peacefully away at the foot of a national forest, accessed by an old dirt road and a hand-made wooden bridge. One day, Dew and I were taking a morning walk down the dirt road when I turned around just in time to see her stop, plop down, roll over on her back and wiggle happily for a minute or two in the gravel and dirt.

I smiled and shook my head at how much happiness the dirt road gave her.

I guess it runs in the family.s

Sign up for Ronda's newsletter at www.rondarich.com. She is the best-selling author of the new book, "What Southern Women Know About Faith."