The road to Notch Hill

Photo by Matt Duncan on Unsplash
 on April 2, 2024

We usually drive far more highways than we do roads. Roads are intimate and local. Roads meander. Roads pause for things. They run under deep groves of trees and let the shadows play on their surfaces. Roads go down by small rivers, even streams. Really intimate and quiet roads sometimes give way to a stream that allows them to cross it. Drivers slow down and the water splashes from the wheels; children bounce up and down in back seats and laugh as the water arcs out on either side. Roads allow houses and gardens to be close to them and animals to saunter across them. 

Highways are so very different. Highways are restless and arrogant and assertive. They are endlessly bossy. Not a mile goes by where they are not flinging information at you. “Yield!” they shriek. “No U Turns!” they yell. Highways dislike houses and push them hundreds of yards to either side. Highways detest trees and human beings and small communities.  

I am thinking of a certain road that winds into the hills and leaves the highway far behind. It climbs a ridge and then drops into a rich and fertile valley. There are farms where half a day’s chores have already been done as we drive slowly by. Someone waves a greeting. There is a store with nails and bread and ice cream, among other humble things, all jumbled together. Across the fields, there is an old wooden church with a tiny bell tower and gaping windows. From the step where the door once was, we can see the rusted rails in the grass where the railroad ran. We can see the spot where the train halted to drink greedily from the water tower whose wooden foundation is now lost in the grass.  


Nowadays, if you pause here on a leisurely evening drive, you can hear a long mournful howl on the evening air. It tells you that a few miles from here, a mile-long behemoth of rail cars is thundering ponderously through a neighbouring valley, its wheels rattling and squealing on the gleaming steel rails, bound for places much more important but, alas, not half as beautiful.  

  • Herbert O’Driscoll

    Herb O’Driscoll is a retired priest, conference leader and prolific author of books, hymns and radio scripts. His newest book of memoirs, I Will Arise and Go Now: Reflections on the Meaning of Places and People, was released in 2021 by Morehouse Publishing. 

    View all posts [email protected]
Skip to content