August 18, 2008

My truck gets used for chores on the weekends, and not much else. It’s getting a little long in the drive-train for my daily 100-mile commute.

It’s not pretty, but it’s always helping me to discover things. In its own funky way, it reminds me to pay attention to things I’m usually too busy – and going too fast – to notice.

During the week, the truck sits in a sunny spot by the garage. I have a window screen laid between the dash and seatbacks and dry peppers and tomatoes in it. They’re great seasonings in the depth of winter. As a bonus, the inside of the truck smells great. (see note below.)

The Dakota is more than 20 years old, and shows it, with maybe more than its share of dings, rust, and rattles. It has a v-shaped dent in the top of the tailgate a time when I was showing off my skill at driving in reverse.

When I was younger, I used to name my vehicles. My old Desoto was Hernando, of course. A ‘53 Chevy was Fat Albert, a lima-bean-green ‘54 Plymouth wagon was The Tank, and a Chrysler wagon was Walter, after Walter Cronkite (it’s a long story.) I had a ’63 Chevy wagon for awhile, but one day, both back wheels broke off when I hit the brakes. Never mind what I called it then.

I don’t name them anymore, but at the urging of my friend Tristan, who is 12, The Truck is now Dakota.

When he’s been sitting for awhile, Dakota blows oil smoke like a mosquito fogger for a mile or so before he settles down, so a valve job would be a good idea, but it will have to wait.

Dakota has two-wheel drive, nothing fancy, even when it was new. Manual shift, no A/C., a little chrome trim, but not much.

About the only nod to the silly modern habit of sissyfying trucks into odd hybrids of utility and luxury is blue velour upholstery, which now smells of an amalgam of dried peppers, spilled coffee, mildew, and god knows what else.

My neighbors used to kid me about how much manure I hauled in when I started my garden. I explained that I was a newspaper reporter, and so had an endless supply of it, usually supplied during elections.

Honestly, I don’t know what I’d do without Dakota.

Never mind the utility…Dakota brought me back in touch with some things I had not realized I was missing.

I noticed it the first summer. I had the windows open as I chugged along a back road on my way somewhere, keeping my speed down to 35 or 40, simply because it was the weekend and I wasn’t going to hurry anywhere.

I drove past a cluster of Sweet Olive shrubs in full bloom and was hit by that knock-you-to-your-knees sweetness, like honeysuckle on steroids. It made me realize that as fine as A/C is, it does tend to seal us away from the world as it is.

Like most other things, driving with the windows open in the country can be a mixed blessing. Sure, there are flowers and new-mown hay, burning leaves, somebody grilling steak, rain on the road. But there is also the sinus-slapping odor of aged manure being spread over a field, or a week-dead deer, a furbearing zeppelin, buggy and bloated, hooves heavenward in the gutter.

And the sounds…the high chirp and trill of a redwing, crunch of tires on gravel, peeping of peepers in the spring and buzz saw singing of cicadas in the summer, the faraway stutter of a John Deere tractor, the sticky hiss of my tires on hot tar, rusty chirr of crickets, whirr of grasshoppers, cries of hawks, and the inelegant gronk of the graceful heron, all punctuated by thunder, the lowing of cattle, and snatches of bird song and squirrels scolding the world.

Sometimes, I’ll even pull over and shut down the engine, and just listen. Listening is something Dakota reminded me to do.

I’ve used it to haul furniture, field stone, gravel, sand, soil, mulch and manure. While hauling manure, I learned that it is good practice to close the truck’s back window, as the air currents tend to blow whatever is being hauled into the cab. Flying manure was not something I would stand in line to experience again.

And you thought education had to be expensive.
Note: Drying veggies in the truck was an idea I got from Val Webb of Mobile, Alabama. She writes The Illustrated Garden blogsite normally at, which is temporarily on hiatus. Check it out.

© 2007 Marsh Creek Media,
Gettysburg, Pa.
“Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
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