C’mon now child, we’re gonna go for a ride
Car wheels on a gravel road.
One of my favourite sounds is that first crunch of dirt when you move from pavement to a country road.
Dirt roads take you to places where you’re bound to find silence and trees, lakes dotted by pickerel weed, the ghostly path of the Milky Way.
Nova Scotia has some great dirt roads. They may be paved by now but I remember watching the dust trails behind the car as we drove to our cabin near Gillis Lake in Cape Breton. In my mind, a drive in the car was synonymous with a stop at one store or another. So my Gillis Lake memories come with the taste of lime rickey and potato chips. (Total cost: 25 cents).
Back road rambling
When we moved from Cape Breton to the mainland, I was introduced to the hilly north-south roads of the Annapolis Valley. Most of them are paved but there are still a lot of good old gravel roads that take you from the lowlands to the Fundy shore.
Then there’s the logging roads that are now connecting routes and walking trails at Kejimkujik National Park.
(Let me pause here to express my bitterness that I won’t be able to traverse those Keji roads once the snow flies, thanks to federal budget cuts. There will be no services and no access through the park's main entrance road , effectively turning Keji into a summer only recreation area. And yes, I've let my political representatives know exactly how I feel about that.)
I don't know of any place that rivals P.E.I. when it comes to non-paved vehicular transit. If you want to move from Point A to Point B on the island, it's hard to avoid those wonderful red-dirt roads.
During a visit this summer, we put our GPS to use and found ourselves passing houses that, until the advent of this handy satellite technology, likely didn't see too much traffic going by.
But back to that ghostly path that spans the October sky. There’s dust in the galactic road of the Milky Way, and there’s a lot of gas as well. Throw in the interaction of gamma rays and you get that eerie glow that gives our galaxy its name.
Under “black” skies, the light of the Milky Way can be so luminous that it casts shadows, which must be a thoroughly surreal experience. But if you're observing any distance from city lights, you’ll notice a path of darker areas that splits the bright starry path. Called the Great Rift, this ribbon of darkness is made up of dust created during the star formation process.
Besides light pollution, moonlight is the bane of Milky Way pilgrims. It’s best viewed during the thin crescent and new moon phases.
It’s a great time of year to enjoy this celestial spectacle in the evening hours, when the Milky Way arcs overhead from Sagittarius low in the southeast and northwest to Cassiopeia.
On the night of Oct. 20/21, we’ll have the added bonus of meteors streaking across the galactic vista. The Orionid shower peaks on this night, well after the waxing crescent moon has set.
The Orionids usually don’t escalate into the meteor storms sometimes associated with showers such showers as the Leonid or Perseids.
But the average of 50 to 70 meteors per hour and the bearable night temperatures of late October is well worth putting off your bedtime.
Time to rub our eyes, pack up the trunk and clean the dust off the windshield. Our road trip ends in the bleary hours of the October dawn, when the brilliant beacon of the planet Venus will light our way home.