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Back Roads: A back road is a back road is a back road

An osprey carrying a fish descends onto its nest along a back road near Garrison in central Minnesota.

GARRISON — A driver saw me walking along the gravel back road, slowed and moved over to offer extra room.

I waved my thanks.

He returned the greeting with a back-roads wave — four fingers raised and thumb hooked on steering wheel.

After he drove on, the road was quiet except for my shoes crunching gravel. All around me were trees and yellow flowers like goldenrod, yarrow, sunflower and black-eyed Susans. The early sun was comforting. I let my mind drift as I walked the narrow road.

And then came a loon's yodel from a nearby lake.


It was a wake-up reminder that I wasn't walking a bluffland road but one in central Minnesota where I vacationed in August. It struck me how similar back roads can be.

Much of the road was lined with trees, much like around here. Flowers are abundant and drivers generally friendly, just like in the blufflands. The road winds around, dodging lakes and ponds, while in the southeast they twist because of bluffs and streams. I regularly see bald eagles; ditto down here. At a nearby small lake, I could see the flash of two large white birds gliding onto the water — trumpeter swans were nesting there just like down here.

On the other hand, there is the matter of bugs.

We don't have a lot of them around here, but in lake country, mosquitoes, deer flies and black flies can be horrid. One summer, deer flies swarmed around me like angry electrons attacking a hapless nucleus. At times, they make us prisoners in our cabins, afraid to go outside without dousing ourselves in repellent. I don't miss those bugs down here.

There's also the difference in geology, with rocks all jumbled and confusing around the lakes because of glaciers. Down here, they are stacked neatly as they were laid down in ancient seas.

But what I decided makes a back roads unique isn't the birds, flowers or geology, but memories. Each road, once you get to know it, gives its own stories.

Up north, I remember this road for the warm walks in summer and duck hunting in fall. When hunting, we would drive down it in the dark, take a side road and go to a grassy trail to get to the hunting land. To get to the trail, we had to unlock a gate that my father-in-law, Chuck Hubbard, said had "character" because it was bent by a falling tree.

Last month, I walked that road and sure enough, the old gate was still there, still with character. I laughed because it was good to know some things don't change.


Down here, roads I've walked or driven on have memories of people met, fish caught, rivers canoed, stories written.

That left me with the question of, are they the same or different? I decided a back road is a back road is a back road.


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