Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
After a weekend that saw two six-hour, one-way trips in the car - getting from one place to another, it's obvious that it's summertime. The roads are torn up everywhere. They're buckling in places, where the unbearable, cooking heat has forced them to revolt upward. They're being ripped apart and repaired, made new again, by what must be whole teams of workers, though not a single one was seen as we slowly moved over one-lane traffic on the interstate. All of this aside, the sights we were able to take in outside our windows were of coughing old Iowa towns, with crumbling downtown buildings that haven't seen a fresh coat of paint, a new roof or any minor improvements since the 1960s, or close to it.
We drove through a countryside that was immaculately green, even in the throes of a torturous heat wave that has put a tremendous amount of stress on everything, where even being in the shade feels like you're in a pizza oven. We drove through all of these places that have survived in spite of themselves, against all logic, in the face of depopulating and a mass backpedaling. Still, they remain charming, with their crusty and bent old men and women, their rotting homes, rusty playgrounds and faded signs on the edge of the high school grounds touting the town's previous state champion athletic teams.
These are places that Nashville bluegrass and folk band Humming House could see the beauty in. They find magic in the roadways and they're likely to marvel at the way a lifeblood could stubbornly still roll through a place that's been felled to its knees in a considerable way. They'd appreciate the sweaty work that it takes to break up a road, to pile it off to the side and then make a brand new one, just so everything can remain connected.
You can hear the highways as they wrap through Humming House songs. They buzz like a motor and they speak silently, in gestures. They matter because they are planted down on some of the richest and darkest soil in the country and people are asked to slow down on them as they work their ways through populated areas, if for no other reason to pay respect to the ice cream stand and the oldest and biggest maples and oaks standing off to the sides - trees that were spared, trees that have sunk their roots as deep down as they can get them. Humming House rambles lovingly down all the bumpy roads that it can find, be they cold, warm, hidden or torn.
*Essay originally published July, 2012