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Drive down the L3210 and you roll through bog and woodlands and crossroads. Crucifixes and flowers mark the accident-sites where people were killed. And one-lane roads jut from its course into the country. Where they disappear around bends overgrown with brambles. No more than tracks drawn in the earth by years of wooden cartwheels and trudging asses.
A spring sun shines without heat, stripped of its warmth by the bitter wind. It’s Sunday and the roads are quiet now save for a faraway motor’s rumble. I stand at the edge of a track and look down the one opposite me at the turn it takes into the bog. The rumble becomes a roar and a Volkswagen flies past, disappearing down the road. I turn around, head back the way I came.
The land is green and dry, brand new after the winter and swept clean by the wind. I walk on the grass that grows down the track’s centre, towards the country road that lies hidden from the main one by hills. It winds its way about the farms. Twisting with the fences that saw the country into fields.
Years ago my family came here from California. Where the land was divided by picket fences into smaller sites for smaller houses. I woke up after the flight in the back of our new car. Out the window I saw Ireland’s alien landscape spread out in all directions and felt the twists of the narrow road we were on. In America the roads were straight. In Ireland they have to wind their ways through private property and local feuds and disputed claims. So they turn in mad arcs through the countryside. And spell out, in their own parochial language, the stories of their people.
Up the hill there is a scorched hedge by the road. Our local madman set it alight to piss off his neighbour who he has been warring with for so long that he has forgotten what started it all.
The road into town has heard all the parish’s dreams and fears and loves and sins. Got them straight from the drunks who muttered them under their whiskey-breath as they stumbled home. It’s the same road that has carried townspeople east. Off to their new lives in Dublin and beyond – to the States and England and Australia. Across the oceans of a shrinking world.
Once the world was huge, too big to even think about. But roads have shrunk it. Until it fit in our fists and on our screens and in our dreams and ambitions. The question of what’s beyond the horizon has been answered. Now the question is where does a person fit in a world that can be squeezed into a Tweet.
We see the world through the media – social media, news media, or otherwise. But a soul won’t fit in 280 characters. A tabloid’s headline cannot contain a life. Humanity – both collectively and individually – is too vast a concept to be contained in even our finest artworks.
However, we have tried to distill it down to its barest essence. So that it will fit in our on-the-hour news broadcasts. An essence made wholly of half-truths.
As the world shrunk so did our views of ourselves. We are connected now by thousands of invisible roadways – we have paved the skies with them. Yet instead of fostering communication between individuals, we have devolved into a hive-mind. So that now there is less humanity to go around.
This is not the fault of the technology. It is our failure to exert ourselves, to walk our road, that has led to this breakdown of humanity. In Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, Mr. Wednesday says of the war between the Old Gods and the New Gods that “we’re not sure what side the roads are on.” The roads are not on any side. It is us that are walking into traffic.
Before roads there were rivers. But we did not carve them out of the bedrock, as we paved the roads. When man decided to get from his house to the store he laid a road. When we decided to cross from west to east we went by the Silk Roads. And when we decided to come home, we turned around and followed our new paths back. Now the whole world is crisscrossed by them.
I walk down the country road, twisting with its curves as the wind whispers by. A dog barks, the treetops sway, a farmer herds his cattle into the shed. And this small world turns on. Following its one-lane road into the future.
Featured Image Source: James Fleming