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McCallum: Faded Fog Lines

Faded by normal winter conditions, temporary fog lines on a highway near the writer's home have all but disappeared.

Winter’s sudden arrival this fall marked the end of a large road paving project in my town. The resurfacing of a two-lane state highway that stretches forty-two miles from Rockingham to just south of Rutland is a busy corridor, and the project that slowed traffic to a halt all spring and summer led to more than a few frayed nerves. In bumper to bumper traffic we sat, from tiny smart cars to enormous eighteen-wheelers, engines idling as we waited for weary flaggers to wave us on through heat, wind and rain. But it was the rain that did us in. Extended periods of soaking rain caused VTrans to halt the project in October before the job was complete. And now, I've acquired new appreciation for the fog line.

For those unfamiliar with the term, it’s the painted white line on the right edge of the road that creates a visual lane boundary for drivers who need to stay between the fog line and the yellow center line. Through snow squalls, rainstorms and dense fog on many a dark night, it was that ribbon of white that unrolled steadily before my headlight beams and helped me cruise down the road in safety. A mere four inches wide, it felt like a lifeline.

But when wet weather soaked the roads during the fall stripe-painting season, only temporary lines were laid down before winter hit. Since then, snow, sleet, rain, sand build-up and salt - normal winter wear and tear - have practically obliterated them, and now the yellow center stripes and fog lines we depend on to guide us through the night have all but disappeared – leaving locals to complain on social media that they can’t see where they’re going.

It wasn’t until 1917 that the idea of painting stripes on our nation’s paved roads took hold. But more than one hundred years later, some Vermonters in my neck of the woods are finding it hard to see without them.

When it comes to staying in my own lane I’ve often considered the fog line to be my best road-side friend, but this winter, it feels like I’m on my own.

Mary McCallum is a freelance writer and former prison librarian who now works with Vermont elders.
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