Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Blood Alley and Soggy Bottoms

Monday I drove home after visiting my son, Ceilee, and his family for the weekend. They live near Blackwell MO (about four hours south of Sandhill) and the most direct route is up Missouri 21, through De Soto, Hillsboro, and Fenton, then skirting around St Louis on Missouri 141 before joining I-64 west to Wentzville.

As I've done this drive a handful of times, and had nice sunny weather yesterday morning (in sharp contrast with the tornado watch I zipped through on the way down Friday evening), it seemed straight forward enough. Though I started out on two-lane blacktop, I was only only two miles away from the transition to four-lane divided highway when the briskly moving traffic suddenly ground to a halt.

My first thought was that we were backed up at the light that controlled left-hand turns out of Hillsboro. However, after experiencing no movement in five minutes I started thinking accident, which guess was promptly confirmed by the siren and flashing lights of an ambulance cautiously advancing against the flow of southbound traffic. Uh oh.

It's hard in situations like this to know whether you're better off waiting it out or hightailing it in reverse, hoping to bushwhack your way through back roads that will allow you to sidestep the gridlock. Given that this wasn't my home turf, I decided to wait. After those choosing the alternate strategy cleared out, I was able to creep up far enough in line to see where the ambulance had pulled off the road, which I interpreted hopefully as an indication that the accident wasn't that far ahead of me.

Still, even with the impediment in sight, when the wait stretched past 15 minutes I decided to put the car in park and pull out a book. Fortunately, I didn't get much further than three or four pages before our line began to move. Just as a put my book away, I happened to glance to my left and scanned a large billboard indicating in a matter-of-fact way that I was traveling through Blood Alley—the deadliest stretch of highway in Missouri. Gulp.

I never would have noticed this sign if I hadn't been stopped. I don't know what was weirder: that I was reading about the local high rate of serious accidents while waiting for the road to be cleared from a serious accident; or that there was a billboard informing passersby about this dubious distinction. 

I never found out what level of injury was sustained by the people involved in the accident—as the ambulance didn't seem to be in any hurry to depart the scene, I figured it was either minor or fatal—but a van had apparently slammed into a compact, tearing up the former's fenders and crushing the rear end of the latter like an accordian. It looked pretty ugly, and I drove extra-cautiously the remainder of the way home.

While it's impressive that so many people can drive so many miles in this country without being involved in serious accidents, safety is somewhat of an illusion and I'm always shaken when encountering tragedy like I did Monday morning. I'll bet the folks in those two mangled vehicles felt every bit as safe as I did when they started their vehicles Monday morning...

• • •
The geology of Missouri is quite different when you get south of the Missouri River (which is where Ceilee lives). There's an abundance of old rock and natural springs that translates into poor farmland and breathtaking river courses. Steelville—the float trip and canoe rental capital of the state—lies less than 30 miles southwest of Ceilee's domicile.

When we drove to his mother-in-law's outside of De Soto for a fried chicken dinner Sunday night, we took the back roads and I was deeply impressed by the mud-coated vegetation along the floodplain of the Big River (which, with a sense of humor, is a small tributary of the Meramec River. The state had received something approximating one-quarter of its average annual rainfall in the last week and quite a few rivers had jumped their banks when the ground couldn't drink the water down fast enough.

While the flood waters have started to recede, all the way home I observed a number of low lying fields that appeared to have a more promising future as water parks than as cornfields. Too bad rice isn't an option. Though Monday's long June hours of brilliant sunshine helped wring the water out of soggy bottoms, the radio reported a 70% chance of thunder bumpers Tuesday night. Sometimes it's hard to get off the merry-go-round.

The good news is that our garden crew needn't spend much time watering transplants and seedlings this spring—which is a good thing considering all the extra time needed to keep pace with the weeds, which are also enjoying all the water.

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