This time of year the Virginia Department of Transportation does a thorough cleaning of leaves from our roadside ditches so that water flows without obstruction. We live on a state maintained country road, upaved and sandy with deep ditches lining the road on both sides. It is forested on both sides of the road so leaves do pile up.
A VDOT worker walks the mile-long ditch with a rake, pulling and pushing the debris to the water. Next comes the interesting and surprising part of the ditch cleanup. Following the man with the rake is the man in the tractor. Attached to the tractor is a versatile impeller tool that is lowered into the ditch. With great force, it throws the leaves over the land. Not only leaves, it throws standing water while sculpturing the ditch banks to nicely edged trenches.
With all that water and leaves, comes sloppy mud that is thrown 10′ high and 20′ deep onto the banks of the ditch. At first it looks simply wet. But after a day it dries to resemble volcanic ash or a moonscape. The trunks of large trees and small holly trees and shrubs are coated with a thick mixture of gravel and dirt that dries everywhere a ghostly shade of gray. Unless it rains the right away, the mud that has enveloped the sides of the road turns to a hard coating and can stay that way for weeks.
Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester