bar ditch

A bar ditch is a gradual, often grassy dip running along the shoulder of the road, into which road water can drain. While the term is a corruption of both barrow ditch and borrow ditch and shares characteristics with both, a bar ditch is more recent than either, as it came into use more or less with graded roads, which, without proper drainage, can get slick. In common usage, however, whether there’s a functional drainage ditch or not, just about any space between the road and a fence is a bar ditch, as Elmer Kelton writes in The Time It Never Rained: “Charlie let the pickup come to an easy stop on an area where the bar ditch was shallow and almost flat.” One thing to watch out for in a bar ditch, aside from vehicle clearance, is rattlesnakes. They like to stay close to the warm asphalt. The men who mow the ditches say that’s where the big ones are. And though some will suggest that the “bar” in bar ditch comes from its function of “barring” cattle from getting into the roadway, all the dip does in relation to cattle—if anything—is make them have to lunge up the short incline for a couple of steps, which leaves them clambering onto the blacktop for footing and probably strands them in more headlights than not.

Stephen Graham Jones

The sun was setting now and all the flat country around them was cast in gold, with long shadows fallen out from behind the ordered fence posts above the bar ditch.

— Kent Haruf, Eventide

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