Appalachian Wednesday–Cleaning Ditches
A state crew came out not long ago and re-ditched our road. It was badly needed in several places, but I have to say I wasn’t impressed with the finesse of large equipment. It worked great along the steep hill and in several other areas, but more than one stretch needed a more, shall we say delicate, approach.
My dad has long been a ditch maintenance artist. It’s an important job along country dirt and gravel roads where water washing across the roadbed can cause major problems. He often went out while it was raining because that’s the best time to see how the water will run. I also have a sneaking suspicion he liked being out in a bit of rain when he had could have the world all to himself.
I’ve run this poem before, but it’s been a couple of years and seeing the ragged, machine-made ditches reminded me of it. Hope you enjoy!
When it rained and the fields
could not be worked, my father
would take a shovel and walk
the muddy byways.
He watched the ditches
for clumps of leaves—little dams
forcing the flood across
the rutted road and one by one
released pent-up eddies of dirt
and debris. Maybe it was the need
to be doing, to be busy even as
nature went about the business
of watering the farm. Or maybe
it was the peace of walking
through a world narrowed down,
where the rain limned
each leaf and twig and stone,
where he could see his problems
in a glut of filth pried loose,
giving way, washing free
down the side of a mountain.