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Gravel

Written By George Callahan

Aug 12, 2019

Rugged shoes stand before a yellow gate; it reads: Those who know the song.

“What song?” I wonder.

I step from the parking lot and pass the yellow gate onto the crushed limestone of a logging trail.

The trail is worn and rutted and damp, and it cascades down into some valley.

“What song?”

Is it the song of gravel underfoot? Any who steps here knows this song. The crunch of a step and shift of the ground. It wanders through the forest and mingles with the stream and rustling trees and the sound of creatures alive, high above on branches. It paces my breath and the easy swing of my arms.

Or is it the song of mineral-perfumed pine-air? The damp rocks and dirt, now clinging to rubber soles, rise and mix with the green needles of the loblollies. It’s moss and dirt and pine and crushed rock and with each deep, toiled breath, I taste them. I taste them and experience them and I wonder if this perfume will cling to my damp shirt and hair.

It might be the song of contrast. The gravel running out of sight along the grassy edge, out of reach of the trees. Gray and brown rock and black dirt running along soft greens and wild berries. The civilized and the free; the road of man and the freedom of forest; the alien rock, crushed and spread thin, and the native wood, ferns, and flowers.

I will journey straight into your heart and know you, the road of man says to the forest. I will spread this gravel and it will carry laborers and adventurers into your valley.

The forest replies: I will raise mountains and run streams and fall heavy pines. Your laborers and adventurers will journey with ease, at first, and then I will crush their expeditions, the taming of my pines and streams and peaks by man. You will wind and climb and descend only as I allow, road of man. This is my song: ‘Come here to know me; come here to experience all that I am. Still, road of man, know that you cannot know me, truly. Your alien crushed rock cannot reach my heart and you will wander these pines in search of it.’ This is my song: ‘Wander and smell and taste and feel and see and know not, road of man.’ 

I take a long and deep breath. I see the contrast and taste the limestone and pine in the air and hear the crunch and shift of gravel underfoot. I will wander this forest today; I will summit mountains and descend valleys and search for the heart of the forest.

I know the song, and so I always wander. Up the road of man and then off it, toward roots and vines and mud on dirt trails. Up and down and way up and then down steeply, away from the road of man.

Those who know the song.

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