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Fallen Ash Road

Along Fallen Ash in the summertime, the copperheads would stretch across the dirt and gravel roadway, bathing their dull brown bodies in the sun's abundant warmth. Like all animals in those hot and dry months between May and August, the vipers were sluggish, slithering lazily among the broken stones near the railroad tracks. The normally rambunctous and territorial dogs that patrolled the backwater thoroughfares had reduced the scope of their kingdom to the front porch where there was shade to be had. Mountain View wasn't quite above the timberline, but there were few enough trees that finding shelter was difficult for anything that didn't hug the ground.

In that big, ugly van of hers, my mom would navigate the narrow Fallen Ash Road with relative ease. An armchair hippie, she had joined the domestic peace corps and was sent to Vista, Tennessee for a summer, or a year, depending on who she is telling. This, of course, made her an expert in navigating backwoods dirt tracks like Fallen Ash; the kind of road where the drainage ditches could swallow a Mack truck. She managed, though, despite her reckless approach. Well, she was lucky. 

When the rain came down on Fallen Ash, the road became a hazard where the kind of reckless driving my mother has since perfected could get you killed. Following one of those "freak" rainstorms that came along once or twice a summer - the two-faced promise of respite - mom came around the corner faster than she should have and slid rather softly into one of those massive trenches. Movies had taught me that no matter the scope of the crash, all vehicles exploded, rain or not. But there was no explosion, not even a ruptured gas tank to improve the story.  

By that point, the rain had been fallen so hard, what she careened into could no longer be classified as a creek. She had driven herself right into a raging, roaring, roiling, river. Five kids in the back, groceries to feed them and the van is slowly filling with brown water. The size and shape of the van - these were the days of sharp right angles and plenty of drag - saves us from being swept away. We scramble out of the vehicle like rats abandoning a container ship, but when we reach the relative safety of the road, we are no longer five children and a kind-of-hippie mother, we are the mud men of Fallen Ash, terrifying creatures of Earth and water sent to seek revenge against the corporations strip mining the Ozarks.

Walking back to the house to call for a tow truck - this was well before cell-phones - buckets of rain fall while long, cutting bolts of lightning strike down in the cow fields on either side of the road. We hunch down, all six of us, we hunch down to make ourselves as low as possible. Lighting is attracted to tall objects, my mother tells us. If that is the case, then why does it keep striking the ground over and over again. What is lower than the ground? How do you hunch down lower than a cow field without digging yourself a hole. When we get home, we are junior mud monsters, but we still need to get doused with the house. We're stripped down, marched into the garage, and vicously hosed down by my father, like we're violent prisoners just hauled in for taking showers in the blood of our victims. Thinking back, I'm surprised they skipped the delousing.

There's some damage to the van - new gas tank, some undercarriage work, a good carpet cleaning - but we are back on the road in no time, singing the ice cream song, whining, screaming, arguing over bench seat real estate. Mom's driving still has not improved and she still denies that the excursion into Rio de Fallen Ash was her fault, but she got us through childhood without permanent  scars - well, not many scars.