What do the roads sing?
COME to our Greene County hills and you will hear the roads sing. But you will have to sit still long enough to listen. I was five years old when the roads started singing. At first it was a humming sound at twilight - people went to bed early in those days. I used to sit in the old wooden porch swing on Grandma Lana's front porch on Sugar Run. As soon as the lights came on the roads began to whisper. At first the melodies were simple ones, but as the years passed they became clearer and stronger, and now they sing until dawn.
When cars came into style, there were only two roads out of town that had hard surfaces. One of them, the Smith Creek road, was brick. Brick roads rumble. So do wooden bridges, and we had lots of those. Then, one by one, our roads improved. They were cemented or asphalted as drivers demanded all-weather conditioning, and cars picked up speedier engines. And that was what I began to hear as I watched for headlights to swing around the heights above town in the deepening dusk. At first my grown-ups didn't know what I was talking about when I said, ''I like to hear the roads singing.'' Later they tried to explain it scientifically. I was impressed, but that didn't spoil my secret joy.
You see, our hills lie between the steep terrain of West Virginia on one side and the Laurel Ridge Mountains on the other. Below their crests the hills shoulder out and drop away in a series of natural amphitheaters at various levels.
You know how people say traffic hums on the highways and roars in the city. Here it does better than that. The roaring is so far away it blends with the humming. But that is only part of the tune. We now have eight hard-surfaced roads winding into town: the Smith Creek road (218), the Washington road (19-N), the Jefferson road (188), the Mt. Morris road (19-S), the Carmichaels road (old 21), the Airport road (new 21), the Rogersville road (21-W), and the Sycamore road (18). Highway 79, about a mile out of town, gives depth and continuity to our orchestration.
Engines purr and tires swish. It is the wheels that mostly regulate the music. The sound of long turns - slow in and speed out, the crescendo and diminuendo of trucks going into upgrades and downgrades - becomes contrapuntal by virtue of our resonating hills. Cars pass each other, cars stop momentarily at the crossroads, or when one engine stops and another one starts. These give rhythm and character to the night's melodious measures. The tunes blend and separate. Sometimes a distant train - iron wheels on rails - adds a sound of bells, almost like the old-fashioned jingle of harness, or, perhaps, the archaic clank of armor.
Dirt roads (and we still have plenty of those) have a different sound - deep, muffled, slower - little melodies of stream and shade echoing from rocks and fences. All this comes out at night when the air is clearer and purer and the voices of birds fall silent in sleep. People's other activities die down. Only the rubber wheels keep turning as folks come home or journey to unknown destinations.
What do the roads sing? Sometimes it's ''Going home, going home.'' Sometimes it's ''Adventuring we shall go.'' The roads say, ''I'm coming to visit you, my love,'' ''Goodnight, sweetheart, sweet dreams,'' or, ''O little town of Waynesburg, how warm and snug you lie.'' One of the songs simply says, ''I am the road to everywhere - yesterday, today, and tomorrow.''
But come down and visit us sometime. Hear it for yourself. You can feel your own words throbbing with your quiet heartbeat in the sound of our singing roads. Park out on the hill above town and listen. Or come and sit beside me on the porch some pleasant, dusky evening, and I will interpret for you.