section-line road

In most of the United States west of the Appalachian Mountains (Texas being the largest exception), the grid of section-line roads, running north-south or east-west at intervals of a mile, imposes a tidy scheme onan unruly landscape. In farm country, more often than not, such roads are gravel or dirt, so they signal the passage of cars or trucks by plumes of dust. The ninety-degree turns imposed by the grid often stymie drivers, especially those whose judgment is impaired by alcohol or testosterone, as Norman Maclean illustrates in A River Runs Through It: “My brother said, ‘I don’t know how to explain what happened next, but there was a right-angle turn in the section-line road, and the rabbit saw it, and I didn’t.’”

Scott Russell Sanders