Caution: sign ahead

Communicating through pictures —  and, more specifically, signs — can be a powerful way to send a message.

My daughter commented the other day that on our rural street there are not many signs. No bent arrows indicating sharp curves ahead. No speed limit indicators. Nothing telling you to “keep right” or “yield.” There is, however, a sign with a picture of a cow. Below it is another sign that reads “loose gravel.”

Loose gravel and cows ahead

Clearly there could be cows ahead, and the road is covered with loose gravel instead of smooth pavement. I live on this road and it makes for interesting travel (and running), but I digress.

I’ve started to notice these types of signs popping up in more locations. Using just color and a simple black silhouette picture, the signs communicate a message. They also tell a story.

In my commute from country to city, two signs I pass tell the story of a journey. There is this:

Tractor warning

And then this, about 35 miles away:


It could be said these two signs tell the tale of my two cities — or two different locations around a growing and urbanizing region.

If you live outside of a dense urban setting, you’ve probably seen this sign:

But in the area where I live, an area rich in horse farms and equine enthusiasts, I see these signs, too:

These signs aren’t really all that unusual, but they communicate a message. Their main purpose is to warn us of these things around us. But they also tell you something about the area in which they are planted. The deer are frolicking nearby, so there is forest, park or dense brush nearby (or such things were once nearby, at least). A sign with people mounted on horseback tell the story of a community that still loves the feel of a trot under saddle.

They tell us you might get stuck behind a tractor hauling huge bales of hay or you might have to wait for a golf foursome to cross the road before you can get to your favorite lunch spot.

Some of these signs and the stories they tell are funny. This sign made me laugh:

Uneven lanes or running from Boss Hogg?

Mr. John Schroer, Tennessee Department of Transportation commissioner, said these are not yield signs (my mistake). They’re temporary construction warning signs.

“The one pictured is telling the driver that the surface of the lanes are at different heights because one lane has been milled in preparation of new pavement,” Schroer explained.

The first time I saw this sign, it made me chuckle. I could see the road construction ahead, but the illustration still made me think of the Dukes of Hazzard on the run from Boss Hogg. The music started playing in my head. There was a message here and a mini story it set off — and it all happened at 70 miles an hour heading down the interstate.

That’s a powerful way to communicate, to tell a story with just one picture.

But this one was a mystery:

Sparks, lightning, railroad tracks?

Four of us in the car tried to decipher it. Pulling a trailer across railroad tracks will cause sparks? Or lightning strikes more than once? Not sure. Not all communications are clear. Not all signs are perfect.

Then there is this:

Collision ahead

It was on a paved trail with two lanes, so I think it was telling users to stay in their lanes to avoid collisions. But maybe it was trying to tell skaters to go in one direction and runners/walkers to go in the opposite direction? I’m not 100% clear on this one. I just tried to stay in my lane and watch out for people on skates heading straight for me. Maybe this one was a little bit of a horror story?

Either way, a picture can be a powerful way to communicate. Even a simple silhouette can speak clearly. But proceed with caution.

I end on this note:

A clear sign posted near a cemetery in Eunice, La.

Twenty-give years ago, my husband took this photo. If I’m talking about signs that send a message, I felt it had to be included.

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