AMY KIRK: Country road etiquette: Know your mud
Since the roads on our outfit are not government owned, there's a protocol for our dirt and gravel roads. It pertains mostly to mud, but also includes our driveway and the byways to pastures, fields and highways when our roads aren't muddy.
As landowners, we are in charge of maintaining our roads, fixing potholes and smoothing out lumpy ruts. The maintenance that's done on the dirt roads we use is based on one main factor: who drove through the pothole to make it bigger, or who drove down to the junkyard, stackyard, field or pasture when it was muddy and tore up the road in the process. Discovering any deeply rutted-up muddy road is usually followed up with reprimanding.
We use our own machinery or blade attachments to clear off snow, smooth out our driveway and fill in big water-gathering low spots. If tracks are visible through a mud bowl in the driveway, investigation may occur to determine if the tire tracks belong to family member or an unknown driver. Regardless of the guilty party, it always leads to questioning of family members.
Country road protocol requires a little knowledge in geology, as in, "know your mud." Farm and ranch people have to know the kind of mud they're dealing with and the different consistencies of their dirt and gravel when it takes on moisture. Mud's texture changes as it dries, which makes a difference in knowing when our dirt roads are drivable.
We like our driveway and other roads smooth just like everybody else, so we are a little particular about our dirt since we have to do all our own road repairs. Our country road protocol includes driving around potholes when soft or saturated with moisture because consistently driving through a water-filled or squishy pothole will make it bigger and deeper. Once the road has dried out, filling potholes using a shovel is a task sometimes given to our kids as busy work or punishment. We've all filled our share of potholes, but nothing teaches kids the value of paying attention to potholes and the condition of roads more than having to fill potholes and help smooth out the driveway.
Driving down to our junkyard or other roads when they're muddy creates deep canyons and mud ridges that harden as they dry. Our road formalities also include strategically maneuvering our vehicle and ATV tires over squished-up mud ridges to flatten out ruts during the drying process whenever possible, regardless of whether the ruts were self-made or created by others unfamiliar with our rules on dirt. When driving on muddy roads is absolutely necessary (to feed cows for instance), it's done in the morning while the ground is still frozen.
Country road rules aren't exclusive to muddy circumstances though. Rearranging gravel and dirt with vehicles or four-wheelers and creating ripple rings from spinning "cats" or "cookies" in the driveway is another violation of country-road code of conduct that will get our kids a shoveling job whether they did it or not. We are also fussy about drivers who drive on anything but the road to turn around or back up when there's a perfectly good designated road or driveway for that.
By now our kids have gotten smart about our road etiquette. They know to grab the good shovels before someone else does.
-- Amy Kirk and her husband raise their two kids on a fourth-generation cow/calf operation near Pringle. She blogs at ranchwifeslant.areavoices.com.