The Frog at My Door

The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest of intentions.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900; Irish poet and playwright)

My mountain home borders the George Washington National Forest, and, as you might expect, my world is filled with frogs.

Tree frogs, especially, are everywhere. I am convinced that millions and millions surround me. Oddly, though, I don’t see them often at all. They are quite small and awesomely masterful at blending into the trees and forest floor where they live. But I hear them everywhere. Once they start singing–usually in late Spring or early Summer and continuing through mid-Fall–I am in the midst of a nightly surround-sound symphony, commencing with a twilight overture, continuing with a high-pitched repertoire throughout the night, and reaching a calming finale around daybreak the following morn.

The principal musician among the tree frogs is the Spring Peeper, camouflaged to look like tree bark–light or dark as needed. Their song is a pure-tone whistle or peep that rises slightly in pitch from beginning to end. Loud. Piercing. Distant choruses sound like the jingling of small sleigh bells.

Joining them, somewhere in the trees or on the forest floor, are wood frogs–brown, tan, or rust-colored–dark-eye mascara. Their rolling call is a soft, ducklike cackling–ca-ha-ha-ac, ca-ha-ha-ac, ca-ha-ha-acnot too unlike a flock of quacking ducks.

And let me not forget the mottled-skinned Gray Tree Frog. It can be black or almost white, and it can change to light green, yellow, or gray. Its call is a melodious trill, lasting about half a second and repeated over and over again.

Aside from tree frogs, I have several Bull Frogs that live in my Koi Pond. Green tops. Cream or yellow bellies. Large eyes with almond-shaped pupils. I’m most fascinated by their tympana (eardrums) right behind their eyes. My bull frogs belt out loud, resonant bass notes: rumm . . . rumm . . . rumm, or, as some folks claim, “br-rum” and “jug-o-rum.” Wishful thinking.

And, of course, I have Toad Frogs. Stocky body.  Clumsy gait. Dry brown skin. Warts. (No. You did not get your warts from a toad frog.) I love to watch them puff up their bodies when threatened–never by me–in an attempt to look bigger. They, too, have a call. It’s a long trill, and each male in the chorus calls at a slightly different pitch, alternating and overlapping their songs.

And, from time to time, I have seen it rain frogs. Yes. Right here in my yard.

Say whaaaat?” someone just croaked.

Yep. It is possible to “rain frogs.” In severe weather, strong wind gusts scoop them up, blow them hither and yon in the sky, and let them fall to earth again.

Obviously, I spend a lot of time listening to frogs and watching them whenever I am blessed enough to catch sight of them. However, of all the frogs in my world, one has super special meaning.

It’s the frog at my door. My kitchen door. It’s the door that I use when I go out. It’s the door that I use when I come back in.

The frog at my door is a big frog. It’s huge. Actually, it’s the biggest frog that I’ve ever seen. Its belly is all white, a dramatic contrast to the rest of its dark green body, all splotchy with light green spots. And it has several remarkably large warts on its back. As it sits there–all puffed up–its thick lips have a wide, welcoming, fly-trap grin, and its eyes seem forever fixed on mine every time that I walk past. Sometimes, I even think that it looks up and winks at me. Whenever that happens, I always return the flirt.

Is it real?” someone just bellowed.

Well, of course, it’s real. But it’s not alive. I put it there when I started reinventing myself and had to relocate treasures from my college office to my treasured mountain home.

Now the frog sits at my kitchen door, forever looking, forever looking.

My placement of the frog at my door was as deliberate as my purchase. The moment that I laid eyes on it–the moment that our eyes locked–it looked as if it wanted–no, needed–a kiss.

In an instant, I was reminded of the Grimm Brothers’ “The Frog Prince.”

No doubt you remember the story. It’s about a young princess who tossed her golden ball–her favorite plaything–into the air and, failing to catch it, it rolled along the ground and fell into the spring.

“Alas! if I could only get my ball again, I would give all my fine clothes and jewels, and everything that I have in the world.”

About that time, a frog popped its head out of the water and started talking. The princess dismissed him as nothing more than a frog, incapable of helping her.

Ironically, he was not interested in her possessions. All that he wanted, in exchange for retrieving her golden ball, was to have her love, to live with her, to eat from her plate, and to sleep upon her bed.

Thinking that the frog could not get out of the spring even if he could manage to retrieve her golden ball, the princess agreed.

The frog retrieved the golden ball. Overjoyed, the princess took the ball and ran home, oblivious of her promise.

The frog followed. When the King discovered what had transpired, he made his daughter honor her promise.

We all remember the rest of the story. The cruel spell was broken, and the frog turned back into a handsome prince. The prince and princess got married, and, of course, they lived happily ever after.

The fairy tale teaches children and all of us several important lessons:

● The importance of not judging people based on their appearances.

● The importance of treating everyone with love regardless of how they look.

● The importance of keeping the promises that we make.

It seems to me, though, that the fairy tale teaches us one more important lesson:

● Magic can happen when we help others meet their needs.

Think about it. The princess needed to get her ball from the bottom of the spring. The prince needed to be freed from the evil spell that had turned him into a frog.

By the end of the fairy tale, each had met the other’s needs. Magic happened.

So there you have it. That’s why I put the frog at my door. As I go out, I want to be reminded of the multitude of needs that I might encounter and the opportunities that I might have to help meet those needs.

Mind you: when I leave, I’m not headed out on a mission to find needs. I’m simply going out to take care of my own affairs, but as I do so, I hope to have a greater awareness of other people’s needs.

Their needs need not be big or earth-shattering. More often than not, they’re small. More often than not, I can’t meet them all every time that I head out. But when I can, I want to be reminded to do what I can.

● I want to be reminded to smile and be friendly to everyone, including strangers.

● I want to be reminded to buy local and to support small businesses.

● I want to be reminded to be on a first-name basis with all the grocery store clerks.

● I want to be reminded to thank the attendant at the sanitation landfill who rarely gets thanked and to remind her of the importance of the work that she does.

● I want to be reminded to see whether I can help the driver who has pulled his car off to the side of the road.

● I want to be reminded to show love to the seemingly unlovable; to make eye contact with the homeless person on the corner; to give generously; to offer to buy a meal.

● I want to be reminded that less can be more and that I can donate to others what I no longer need.

● I want to be reminded to pay it forward: to help someone starting their career; to give someone a word of encouragement; to be the shoulder that a friend can lean on.

● I want to be reminded that I might be the fire that inspires my local postmistress to go back to college.

● I want to be reminded that without even knowing it, my positivity might be the light at the end of someone’s tunnel.

I want to be reminded of all those things and so many, many more.

This much I know. When I get back home, the frog at my door will be there, waiting for me. Our eyes will lock once again, and at that moment, the frog at my door will hold me accountable: Did I do all that I could do? Did I turn my grand intentions into meaningful actions?

Maybe it’s just the frog at my door, but in my mountain world, it’s as magical as any fairy tale.

The Final Cake

Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes
the outmost—and our first thought is rendered back to us by the trumpets of
the Last Judgment.


Dayum! I just realized that the title of today’s post might lead you to believe that I’ve baked my last cake. Not to worry. I haven’t. I mean, after all, I’ve been stacking cakes for layers on end, and I have cakes to bake before I sleep and cakes to bake before I sleep. (Frost and I have our own thing going.)

Let me count the cakes. (Barrett–Elizabeth, not Robert–and I have our own thing going, too.) I’m thinking something like around the world in 80 cakes. (Well, dayum again. It looks as if movies and I have our own thing going. Maybe I have my own thing going with everything. No doubt. I do.)

But imagine that. Baking 80 cakes from around the world. Well. I have never, not yet at any rate. But I wonder: will I be the first? BRB.

Well, triple dayum. Every time that I have a brilliant idea, someone goes and steals it from me–right here in plain sight for everyone to see–and manages to get away with it years before I even manage to speak up and declare it in my post.

Yep. You read it right. Famed pastry chef Claire Clark has already done it: 80 Cakes from Around the World. 6 continents, 52 countries. What adventures. What delights.

OMG! I just had another brilliant idea! Forget my idea of around the world in 80 cakes. Well, actually, we can’t forget it, can we? It’s published as a book already, enjoying life everlasting to its fullest.

Fine. Since Clark’s book focuses on countries, here’s another idea. I will remove that which defines countries as countries. I’ll take away all the borders. Is that a stroke of genius or what? Then I can bake what I want to bake and not be boxed in. BRB. I have to go Google.

Well. Dayum nearly flew out of my mouth again, but I’m getting tired of saying dayum because I’ve said dayum three times already. So, dammit. I Googled, and, once again, someone stole my idea even before I had a chance to speak up and declare it here in my post.

Yep. You read it right. Jennifer Rao has poured the batter already and is baking it up as eBooks. Cakes without Borders. Volume 1: The Maiden Voyage. And she’s added another layer. Cakes without Borders Volume 2: The Journey Continues.

Fine. No problem. Since the baking borders are gone, let’s call it like it is. One World. How’s that for a simple-syrup solution? I’ll bake up One World Cakes. Forget cakes without borders. BRB. I have to go Google again.

Well, as I live and breathe. I have been duped again. What I found was not a perfect match, but it was close enough in spirit and intent that my conscience would never ever let me move ahead with what I know would become my One World Cakes empire. I can’t because Oksana Greer started her One World Cafe in 2007.

Well, I’ve gotten over the repeated theft of my ideas before I even had the chance to speak up and declare them, but now “one world” is floating around in my head. We are, you know, One World. More and more every day. One world.

But if you had asked me when peopled started talking about one world and the heightened responsibilities that we face as one world, I would have credited Pearl S. Buck, who alluded to one world in her 1950s essay “Roll Away the Stone,” contributed to NPR as part of its “This I Believe” program:

I take heart in a promising fact that the world contains food supplies sufficient for the entire earth population. Our knowledge of medical science is already sufficient to improve the health of the whole human race. Our resources and education, if administered on a world scale, can lift the intelligence of the race. All that remains is to discover how to administer upon a world scale, the benefits which some of us already have. In other words, to return to my simile, the stone must be rolled away.

But I’m glad that you didn’t ask, because I would have been wrong. Buck was not the first. Credit for the first use of one world goes all the way back to 1919:

The English idealists have followed Hegel rather than Fichte … in striving for a one-world theory, for seeing ideal values realized in the actual (Political Science Quarterly, 34: 610).

Gracious me. Have I gotten side stacked or what? If I keep this up, my post might well compete with a Smith Island Cake. Please tell me that you know about this famous cake from Smith Island, Maryland. Say whaaaat? You don’t. Well, let me take just another crumb or two to bring you into the cake know. The Smith Island Cake has been honored a mighty stack of times for the defining role that it has played in American culture. It is a super-sweet confection, consisting of at least seven thin layers with cooked fudge icing between the layers and on top. The side of the cake is often left unfrosted. (I made one once with 15 layers. Talk about a show-stopper.) Give yourself the baking challenge. Here’s Mrs. Kitching’s Original Smith Island Cake. Or, if you prefer, buy one online: Smith Island Baking Company.

Enough of Smith Island Cakes. Enough of one world and one world cakes. Enough of cakes without borders. Enough of around the world in 80 cakes. Enough of my nonsense.

It suits me just fine to let it all go. Enough is enough is enough. Besides, those who know me well know that I have baked the good bake and that I will continue to do so (The Bible and I have our own thing going, too.)

I suppose, then, that the best thing for me to do is stop salivating over the gazillion cakes that I have yet to bake and start putting the frosting on the final cake that I baked, the one that got me going with this post.

Let me tell you all about it. I promise: I’ll make it no more than a three-layer cake.

During my twenty-three years at Laurel Ridge Community College (formerly Lord Fairfax Community College), I always baked cakes for my classes, especially my Creative Writing classes. They were smaller than my other classes. Plus, I usually met with Creative Writing classes on Fridays. Bringing cake seemed perfect for a three-hour class like that.

Baking for my classes became a standard. If it was a Kendrick class, there would be Kendrick cakes. Word traveled fast. Once I walked into class on the first day and discovered that one of my students had written on the board:

We heard there would be cake.

Is that sweet or what?

I continued baking for my students throughout my teaching career, all the way through Fall 2022, my final semester as a full-time professor at Laurel Ridge. However, that semester I treated my students, week by week, to various types of sourdough muffins.

As I prepared for our final class–which turned out to be my final class, too–I had in mind my usual: celebrate my students and their writing successes.

Muffins didn’t do it for me. It just had to be a cake. I had many of my favorites lined up as possibilities, but it seemed to me that my students should get to choose.

So, for our final class, I’m baking a cake to celebrate. And here’s the deal. You get to decide what kind of cake. What would you like? Just name it. You’ll get it.

Silence fell over the very same room that I sometimes thought could never be silent.

But I learned decades ago that the best way of breaking classroom silence is to remain silent.

It always works. After a minute of silence that felt as long as a semester, one student spoke up:

German Chocolate.

Robbie, thank you very much. German Chocolate it shall be.

I was silent for a moment, pondering why Robbie was the only one bold enough to speak up and declare a preference. The others sat there as if they could not speak. The others sat there, as if they had no preferences whatsoever. I knew otherwise and started laughing a little, as I started asking why no one else spoke up. Typical responses followed:

Social anxiety

Didn’t know what others might think.

Fear of being wrong.

(Hello. How can you go wrong with cake?)

Wanted to hear what others had to say.

But here’s the thing, and it’s rather ironic. When I walked into class and asked my students what kind of celebratory cake they would like, I stood there before them ready to honor whatever they wanted.

It could have been my 15-layer Smith Island Cake. It could have been a Lady Fingers Cake–Торт “Дамские Пальчики”–from One World Cake. It could have been a Bolo de Fuba from Cake without Borders. It could have been the scandelicious Carrot Cake from 80 Cakes from Around the World. It could have been whatever their taste buds desired to taste, whatever their minds dreamt to dream.

With greater irony, they could have had more than one cake. I stood there before them ready to honor whatever they wanted.

But only one student spoke up. One lone voice prevailed. German Chocolate.

I didn’t want to turn the situation into a lecture, yet I felt that I had a responsibility to seize this moment and make it a sweet learning one.

In a flash, I thought of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance.” With greater speed, I found the essay on the Internet, projected it on the screen for my students to see, and read the following passage:

To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men—that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost—and our first thought is rendered back to us by the trumpets of the Last Judgment. Familiar as the voice of the mind is to each, the highest merit we ascribe to Moses, Plato, and Milton is that they set at naught books and traditions, and spoke not what men, but what they thought. A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this.

When we met the next week, my students were majorly impressed by my show-stopper German Chocolate Cake. Three 9-inch layers of light chocolate cake. Coconut-pecan frosting slathered between the layers, all around the sides, and on the top. Delightfully sticky. Delightfully sweet. Delightfully decadent

When the final class ended, Robbie left–cake carrier in hand, delighted to be taking home what remained of the final cake, his own sweet indulgence to share as he saw fit.

I like to believe, however, that everyone left class that day with an even sweeter realization that might serve them for a lifetime if they will only listen: the influential power of a lone voice surrounded by silence.

In Praise of Transverse Rumble Strips

“The great benefit of slowing down is reclaiming the time and tranquility to make meaningful connections–with people, with culture, with work, with nature, with our own bodies and minds” 

Carl Honoré (b. 1967; In Praise of Slow: Challenging the Cult of Speed)

Come on. Fess up. Did the title of today’s post give you whiplash? Or did you find yourself asking, “What the hell?” before you virtually ran to your virtual dictionary?

Well, if you won’t fess up, I will. I had to run to my virtual dictionary. Not once. Not twice. But  three times. After all, I grew up in the coal mining region of Southern West Virginia. What the hell could I be expected to know about rumble strips, transverse or otherwise? Thank you for cutting me some (coal) slack.

Back in the late 1940s when I was born, West Virginia coal camps generally had one road going in and the same road going back out. The winding, single lanes were memorably narrow.

Once, when I was about four or five, I was walking up the narrow Cherokee Road to a playmate’s home. I had almost reached my destination when I saw a humongous black snake sunning right smack-dab in front of me, just a few feet away, extending himself all the way across the road. For a moment, my bare feet froze on the tarred surface, softened by the sun. But then the curious little boy in me lifted my feet and set me free. I tip-toed to one side and looked up the bank into the weeds. Then I quieted myself to the other side, leaned in, and stretched my eyes down the rocky drop off to Windmill Gap Branch below. When I realized that I could see neither the snake’s head nor its tail, I knew that it was time for me to hightail it back home and get my mother. And that’s just what I did. By the time the two of us returned to where I had seen the snake, it had crawled off to wherever it was going before I came along. It was nowhere to be seen. Luckily, my mother knew that I would not make up a tall tale like that. As we walked back home, she shared some of her own childhood black snake tales, but that’s copy better left to another day and, perhaps, another post.

The narrow road’s tarred surface was always lots of fun even when black snakes did not impede my childhood journeys. Solitary summer hours found me walking the road, searching for small tar bubbles. I knew just how hard to press my toes so that the surface would slip and slide back and forth above its liquid soul without it spewing forth like a minor Mount Vesuvius, burning my toes.

And then, of course, with any luck it might be a summer when Ashland Coal Company resurfaced the road with a new layer of tar. Word traveled fast through the coal camp when resurfacing was going to happen, and I knew exactly where I could go to get a bird’s eye view.

All that I had to do was walk a short way up the road–past the Caprinis, the Knights, and the Wilcoxes–go up the steps with stone walls on both sides winding along the road, and climb up my favorite bean tree in the Monarchy’s front yard. Bean trees were all over the coal camp, in all the  yards, planted years earlier by the coal company as a tip-of-the-coal-miners’ hard hats to ornamental landscaping. The trees are spectacular with large, heart-shaped leaves–big enough to umbrella a child in a heavy rain–and with showy, trumpet-like white flowers with purple and yellow throats–fragrant enough to take a child’s breath away on a misty morn. After blooming, the trees are covered with inedible beans, growing as long as 18 inches and anywhere from a half inch to an inch in diameter. Some people call them cigars. Either way, the tree–Catalpa bignonioides–is a member of the Catalpa family, and the beans/cigars are part of its prominent appeal.

The Monarchy’s bean tree was especially appealing to me not only because it was an easy climb but also because one of its branches extended halfway or more across the narrow, soon-to-be-resurfaced road. Sitting on that branch centered me right above the soon-to-unfold drama.

I can still see as vividly now as I saw then the truck edging closer and closer. It had a huge tank that stored and heated the tar and a distributor that spray-nozzled the tar onto the road.

Creeping along behind was the paver machine with several rollers that spread the tar across the road. Then came the machine with steel drums that compacted the surface.

But the equipment did not impress me nearly as much as the hissing steam that rose steadily from the surface and the smoky, oily smell that subdued even the fragrance of the bean tree flowers. Everything that I could see, seated there on the branch–skinny legs dangling–seemed coated in wet blackness. The road. The equipment. Even the clothes that the workers wore and even their hands that waved to me were all in stark contrast to their tanned faces, flexing wide smiles at me, the coal camp kid in khaki shorts and starched, spread-collar, white shirt, watching and smiling back from a bean tree branch just above all the men and all the action.

And even in times when the narrow road was not being resurfaced, it was always the perfect time and the perfect place for playing the perfect childhood game: hopscotch. Some chalk. A road. A kid. Some other kids. Some others, kids at heart. That’s all that it took. For joy. For exercise. For math. For putting to good use that one road in, that same road out. And here’s the good thing. Even a child like me could count with ease, using both hands, the cars coming in and going back out. Little wonder that our hopscotch patterns were nearly as permanent as if they had been stamped indelibly onto the road’s surface.

Unlike me, though, you probably weren’t born in a coal camp in the late 1940s. So you probably know all about the transverse rumble strips that I didn’t know about as a child.

But don’t be too hasty to agree, lest your eagerness embarrass you.

I’ll spare you by willingly embarrassing myself. Growing up, I missed out on rumble strips, but as an adult, I’ve heard their songs and felt their vibes.

Yet, until I started writing this post, I was not certain what the dang things were called. I had to virtually run to my virtual dictionary to find out.

Now I know. And, in case you don’t know, let me bring you into the know, too.

Rumble strips. Alert strips. Sleeper lines. They were first used in 1952 on New Jersey’s Garden State Parkway as safety features, alerting drivers who veered outside the lanes. Shoulder rumble strips as well as center line rumble strips cause sounds and vibrations, with intensities in direct proportion to the vehicle’s speed. Reminder: slow down. Reminder: be attentive.

But don’t forget about  transverse rumble strips–the ones that perhaps gave you whiplash at the beginning of this post.

Sometimes, they’re temporary rumble strips, put down across the road to alert drivers to something ahead that may require a full stop, usually road maintenance.

Sometimes, they’re permanent, alerting drivers to an unexpected stop sign or intersection ahead or to a significantly lower driving speed.

Down through the years, I’ve had lots of experiences with shoulder rumbles, center line rumbles, and temporary transverse rumbles.

Truth be told, though, I can only think of one village that uses permanent transverse rumble strips, coming and going.

It’s one of my favorite places to visit. Actually, it might be my most favorite place. Mind you, though, it’s not my favorite because it’s known as the “Nation’s Horse and Hunt Capital” with fox hunting, steeple chases, and multi-million dollar estates. It’s not my favorite because of all the rich and famous people who have ties there, including Jack Kent Cooke, Robert Duvall, John F. Kennedy, Paul Mellon, and Elizabeth Taylor.

It’s my favorite for one reason and one reason only. Getting there requires me to slow down. Getting there requires me to be attentive.

It’s about 62 miles east of my home in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. You’re probably thinking that I can get there in an hour. I can’t.  And that’s what I like about going there. Getting there requires me to slow down. Getting there requires me to be attentive.

Oh, I suppose that I could whiz along at 70mph on the interstate and get there faster than I do. But I don’t. I take the state roads: 55mph, slowing down from time to time to 35mph or 25mph, as I drive through some of the Valley’s  blink-and-they’re-gone small towns.

But what I like is when the 55mph slows to 50mph for a long spell. It’s then that the magic begins. It’s then that I start seeing the dry stack stone walls flanking the road, frozen in time, as perfect now as when farmers first stacked stone on top of stone for miles and miles. It’s then that I start seeing gaps in the walls here and there, perhaps the work of animals, though more likely the work of Nature. It’s then that I’m reminded of Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall”:

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,

And spills the upper boulders in the sun;

And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

And then 50mph eases into 35mph as I approach Aldie, dropping to 25mph as I  continue through the village. Then, the calming speed pattern repeats itself as I come into Upperville.

It’s then that every fiber of my being becomes more relaxed, more alert, more attentive, quivering in my heart and my soul. It’s then that I say out loud–for me and me alone to hear: “How civilized. How incredibly civilized.”

It’s then, continuing a few miles further to my destination, that I drive across successive groupings of transverse rumble strips.

It’s then that I can actually see people and cars and dogs with heads sticking out car windows, unlike the fast-moving blurriness of Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro”:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd:

Petals on a wet, black bough.

It’s then that I know. I have arrived. I’m in Middleburg, Virginia.

Soon I’ll meet my good friend Frank–from long, long ago, but not from so far, far away–and sometimes his wife Barb. We’ll meet where we always meet for lunch: King Street Oyster Bar.

And if we’re aware that we’re seated in the village’s historic past and present, midst horse country, steeple chases,  fox hunts, and the rich and the famous, we never talk about it. I doubt that we’re even aware. I dare say that we’re not. Some things–like old money–never show, certainly not in Middleburg.

We’ll talk of this and that–of everything and of nothing, but always of the brininess of the oysters on the half-shell, so fresh that the ocean’s saltiness washes over our conversation.

Soon, always too soon even when it lasts for hours as ours always do, it is done. Lunch is over. We hug, then walk our separate ways, always turning around to wave, at least once, sometimes twice.

Then I start my journey home, driving back out the same road that I drove in, crossing over the rumble strips, noting the increasing speed limits. 25mph to 35mph to 50mph. And I say out loud once more–for me and me alone to hear: “How civilized. How incredibly civilized.”

When my journey morphs mysteriously to 55mph, I start to see the misty Blue Ridge Mountains rising up in the western sky. My heart quickens as I push down on the gas pedal, eager to get back to Edinburg and make the slow, bumpy drive up the one-lane-in, same-lane-out graveled road that always brings me back home.

Once again, the transverse rumble strips have worked their calming magic. Once again, I am at peace with myself and the world, as much as I was when I was a coal-camp child.