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Dennis P. Aures: Countryside drive is a rite of spring

Two eggs, any way you like them, ham or sausage and all the scrumptious buttermilk pancakes you can eat drenched in delicious dark amber maple syrup along with bottomless mugs of good, hot coffee – that’s what lures us to Moore’s Maple Shack every March or April. Starting 20 years ago, when our grandkids were just toddlers, the trek down to Freedom for my wife, Mary Ann, and me has been as much a “rite of spring” as crocuses pushing their way up through the last vestiges of winter.

The drive down the 400 to Route 16, past the sadly now shuttered Earl’s, through Arcade to Route 98 and on to Galen Hill Road is a very nice ride. This time of year the hills are still holding the last remnants of snow and on a cloudless morning, the bright blue skies offer a beautiful contrast to the brown and white landscape below them.

After arriving and proceeding to stuff ourselves to the verge of gluttony, for the past few years my wife invariably observes: “Since we’re down this way, why don’t we take a ride to the casino in Salamanca?” So, as do many of the other “seasoned citizens” in the restaurant, we finish our breakfast, replenish our supply of maple syrup at the gift shop and head south for the casino.

On this particular day, we took some back roads before we hooked up with Route 98 again, and were treated to a brief encounter with the Amish. Nothing will give you a sense of their pace of life as much as driving behind a farm wagon, manned by two bearded men, dressed in black with their unmistakable wide-brimmed hats, hauling a huge vat of water pulled by a team of horses plodding up and down the hills on a narrow two-lane road with a double-yellow line down the center.

At that pace, rather than just a brownish blur rushing past the window at 55 mph, there were actual trees lining the road. And as we trailed along looking out into the sparse woods, there looking back at us were several deer, perfectly camouflaged and content to interrupt whatever they were doing to watch us slowly follow the wagon down the road.

And mingled with the clop, clop, clop of the horses’ hooves and the muted grinding of the metal-rimmed wheels on the pavement came the distinctive call of a cardinal and the brilliant red flash as he flew from branch to branch.

With the windows rolled down, the warm, fragrant spring air filled the car (with the occasional pungent whiff that reminded us the horses were still out there) and with it came the delightful, lilting music of birds singing in the woods. Rather than being aggravated by the delay, I started thinking: “Hey, this ain’t all bad!” But eventually and somewhat reluctantly, with a wave from the driver, we were able to get around the wagon, back up to speed and return to the 21st century.

After that brief brush with simpler times, nothing brought us back to the present more jarringly than stepping off the elevator onto the casino floor. The blue skies and fresh air were replaced with flashing neon lights and secondhand smoke. The soft music of the songbirds was traded for the incessant clamor of the slot machines, while the innocent curiosity of the roadside deer was supplanted by the omnipresent security cameras recording our every move.

While I was thinking: “This is progress?” I’m sure my wife was thinking: “I thought we’d never get here.” Vive la différence!