It always amazes me how you can start on the road outside your house and have it take you to any other place in America, depending on which way you turn, or that by picking up a phone and pushing a set of numbers you can talk to almost anyone in the world.

Mailboxes are like that - conduits to the world. They are altars in a sense, to which we come and worship every day but Sunday. Often our prayers are answered by a stack of coupons and third-class circulars screaming in big, abrasive words like the sounding brass described in the Old Testament, but among them are the pearls of letters from friends and loved ones. Often they have beautiful stamps from foreign countries, their fronts masterworks of graphic beauty.How many rural mailboxes are planted in milk cans? I'd like to have a dollar for every milk can so converted. Milk, sustenance of the body, is also the enricher of the soul - the sound of milk being poured in a milk house, or the sound of milk hitting the foam in a milk bucket. So it is appropriate that milk cans become the bedding boxes for posts that hold mailboxes.

Often, the creative rural farmer who owns a welder will fashion a stem from something unique: mailboxes thrust out to the mailman on the end of a plow share or balanced on a puzzle of random pulleys. The box itself may be transformed into a train or it may writhe on the end of a massive frozen chain, like the head of a cobra dancing above the graceful curve of its supporting body.

One box has a piece of driftwood accentuating its attachment to a cedar post. Who among us hasn't found a piece of driftwood that intrigued us so much that we absolutely had to pick it up and carry it home? It might have looked like a dragon, a horse, a troll or the letter "A" - like the one my son, Dale, brought home from a trip to southern Utah once (a healthy juniper tangle that measured 24 inches by 24 inches across and which hung around the house in one place or another for at least five years). Now that Dale is off to school in Arizona, the big letter "A" mysteriously disappeared about the same time the kids' bedrooms were cleaned.

So the letters come, and the letters go - to missionaries in Brussels and California, to Navy sons in the Philippines and Aunt Bertha in Seattle. There are the box top offers to Battle Creek and sweepstakes to New York. There are the tender letters between lovers torn from each other by work in another state, or military stints or who knows what.

And the mailman hasn't a clue of the passion that passes through his hands, from the altar of the mailbox here to the altar of another - maybe a box somewhat like this, or a bronze post office box, or a bright foreign box, or a slit in the door of an apartment oceans or continents away. Amazing, the binding power packed into these tin totems by the driveway.