They lead to favorite old swimming holes and secret rendezvous spots. They take us past old farmsteads and new farm homes and acres of crop land. For many of us, they are filled with memories so strong we can almost smell the dampness of the leaves carpeting the path through the hills.
In truth, they make up the highways through the rural areas of our nation.
In places like Nebraska, they can run for miles without a rise or even a single curve. In Arkansas and Colorado and Tennessee, among other places, they are filled with switchbacks and bumps and hills and long steep grades.
From the red clay of Oklahoma to the dusty gravel of Wyoming, and from the cinders in Arizona to the sand in the Carolinas, dirt roads take us places we want to go, need to go, or have to go.
Recently I traveled an old familiar dirt road, one made of clay and gravel, and oh so many memories. I say familiar, although only the surroundings were what you might call familiar. Things change, even back in the hollers of the Boston Mountain Range in north central Arkansas.
The big green house that used to sit at the corner where you turn off Luber Road onto Hanover Road has been replaced with a smaller wood-sided abode. The large red barn that used to stand so majestically over the valley is still there, not nearly as majestic and regal in appearance as it used to be. The fence rows along the lane up the rise and over to the next cattle farm are grown up with trees and brush. Further down the holler the old Hanover Post Office is gone, as is the home that used to stand nearby. And a half-mile from there a long mobile home sits way in the back of what used to be one of the nicest hay fields in the area.
On down the road, across Johnson Creek on the west, the old house where 13 brothers and sisters -- all cousins of mine -- once lived is gone. At the end of a long field on the same farm -- hidden from view from the road when the leaves are on the trees - is a nice, large, new home built within the last few years.
Around a short bend and up a steep bank the old home place of my great grandfather has fallen in a heap of old lumber and stone. The stone and shingle well house we all loved so much has fallen.
Even the glorious old White Oak tree at the entrance of the drive up to the house, always a landmark for those driving through the holler, is dead. No telling how old the fellow was before he succumbed to whatever is was that destroyed his life.
A little further down the road the house where Grandma and Grandpa lived in their retirement -- and where I spent many of the summers of my youth - still stands, but it has lost its luster and appears to be going the way of everything else along this route. Grandpa's barn is gone - with no evidence it was ever there.
Further down the lane, the house dad built with his own hands is gone with nothing left there but the well and the footing for the foundation. Before you reach the crossing over Tomahawk Creek, the home of an aunt and uncle stands high upon a hill on the left side of the road.
As I have noted before -- I am fully aware that things change. And it has been said by someone much wiser than me that one can never go home. I submit that part of the reason we can't go home is that home is seldom the same as the memories we hold so dear.
Even on the dirt roads.