As a child of the inner city, I was seduced by three manifestations of “rural” and what that meant: yellow school buses, “RFD” on mailboxes and a fifth-grade field trip to Cook’s Canyon, a wildlife sanctuary in Barre, Massachusetts.

Though the RFD number has been replaced by a house number, the mailbox at Judith Robbins’ Whitefield home still serves the same purpose that it has for 44 years. Peggy Hazelwood/Shutterstock.com

City buses were ubiquitous in Worcester, a part of the urban landscape as they plied their city routes. The yellow school bus, however, was something of an anomaly in the city, rarely seen in front of City Hall, but with some frequency in the suburbs of Holden, Paxton, West Boylston and Shrewsbury. My heart would beat a little faster when I saw one, thinking how lucky the children were who could travel on these special buses to and from school. (Our family walked to our neighborhood school.)

My only experience of riding on one of the yellow buses as a child was on the aforementioned trip to Cook’s Canyon. In our grammar school there was one field trip for all the students, and that trip was in the fifth grade. It was something students would look forward to and reflect back on during their careers at our inner-city school.

For me that trip was a revelation and epiphany of sorts. The word “rural” could not contain it, but it did point the way out of the city on that yellow school bus to an aptly named wildlife sanctuary, for birds, yes, but for fifth-graders as well, for deer and fox, and for squirrels and all manner of wildlife. My family’s cats had constituted my limited experience of animals up close and personal until a staff member introduced us to a deodorized skunk and a previously wounded raccoon that had been rehabilitated at the sanctuary.

Our class walked with the guide along a dirt road under a towering canopy of trees to a brook that waterfalled down and down, interrupted by rock formations. I had never felt as happy and alive as I did that day, and that assertion includes all of the Christmas Eves I had ever experienced …

… which brings me to the happy ending of this brief consideration of “rural.” I now live on a dirt road among fields and forest of white pine and hemlock, in the company of deer, who appear often just before dawn and at dusk; among “birds of a feather who flock together” as ravens, bluejays, turkeys, chickadees and our seasonal visitation and nesting of barn swallows.

Marking this minor sanctuary and helping to keep us in touch with the world and its people is our RFD mailbox. To facilitate finding persons in emergency situations, the RFD number has been replaced by a house number on a given street, road, route or lane. While that is true, the same mailbox stands sentinel as it has for the last 44 years, trumpeting “RURAL FREE DELIVERY.”

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