Life here in Outer Suburbia seems so cluttered with housing tracts and strip malls that I forget, sometimes, how much of the area around our town is still undeveloped. It’s only when we drive the back roads that we see the bones of the land, and are reminded that this part of Texas really is prairie, a southern extension of the same prairie we drive through in Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Dakota.
I saw a map of this region at a science museum years ago, depicting the inland sea that much of the low-lying land used to be. Ever since then, coming home from Dallas, using Loop 12 and Spur 408, I’ve seen that map in my head, and imagined that we are not driving on a highway, but rather a causeway that crosses the sea and descends into the valley floor.
Once when our marriage was young, Fuzzy and I took the back road home from Minneapolis, driving Highway 14 the whole way. We didn’t have a schedule to meet, or animals to feed, and we stopped in all the little towns on the way, including those from the Little House books I’d grown up with. He watched fondly as I dipped my toes in the remains of Plum Creek, and we ate ice cream cones in Walnut Grove.
All of my life, whenever we moved somewhere new, the first free weekend I would hop on my bike and go exploring, getting myself lost and unlost, learning the streets and shortcuts for myself, even though I was perfectly capable of reading a map.
That’s the thing about back roads.
On a map they look slow and unsavory.
But from the saddle of a bike, or the seat of a car, they become our windows into the past, whether it’s the roots of America or the deeper taproots of life itself.