Colebrook Journal

22 09 2014

Chimera Smyth

Driving north on Vermont 102, an alternative to Rt. 3, which has become routine with familiarity. On my way to Colebrook, to friends who have offered me the refuge of their cabin while I sort things out.

I was looking for a spot to pull off and rest, and have a bite to eat. So many “No Trespassing!” signs. And irate “No Turning In Driveway!” signs. I can understand the need to prevent casual entry onto private property. Some people can be carelessly destructive, doing damage and leaving trash and graffiti behind. But the prohibitions against turning in one’s driveway baffle me. Why the hostility towards such a simple, inoffensive act? What is the property damage caused by the brief pressure of tires on a surface designed to be driven on? Property owners stake out their territory and guard it jealously as if it were some coveted treasure. In some cases it arguably could be. But a driveway? They are like dogs erupting into barking rage at any intrusion, no matter how innocuous.

Then I saw a track that sloped down from the main road and into the trees which had neither gates nor bars nor stern prohibitions. So I turned onto it. With its rocks and ruts it was obviously not designed for ordinary vehicles. This is why I have a RAV. I slid through the ruts, negotiated the rocks, managed the steep gravel, and then there I was in an open hay field, not a house or barn in sight.

It’s autumn in the north country, so there was a chill in the air, but the sun blazed down warm out of a blue sky rippled with thin white clouds. I ate my snack sitting on an old towel on the cleared ground, kept company by grasshoppers and other insects going about their business. There was only the lightest breeze, rich with the scent of cut hay. The bales had been removed, taken to some local farm to keep the livestock in bedding and fodder over the winter.

When I had finished eating, I explored. One nearly always can find aging apple trees gone wild, a delight for deer and bear. With jays screaming “Thief!”, as if anyone would care, I picked a tiny, spotty little apple. Sour, yes, but with a reminiscent flavor of something once cultivated. Good for little more than cider even in the best of times. Beyond the line of trees on the far side of the field was the Connecticut River. I made my way over and looked down into its broad but shallow currents. Water leisurely flowing over a still, muddy bottom. I caught a glimpse of a fish — a good sized one. Leaves drifted along the surface or just beneath.

I recalled the saying, “You can’t step into the same river twice.” Is that because it is never the same river, always moving, always changing, or because you are not the same, like the river, always moving, changing, evolving? We are sometimes compared to an onion, made up of layers built up over time, or like a set of Russian dolls, each stage of our lives nested within the next. Growing outward. As if we could cut into us and count the rings. I see us more as a river, with tributaries flowing in, mixing, detritus tumbling through, changing us as we flow. The elements of the small stream that was the river back in the past are indistinguishable. Mixed, diluted, barely remembered. There is no brook to be found in the river any more than there is a child to be found in the adult.

In counseling I was urged to look back and try to remember my past. It became a part of my toxic ruminations, struggled with, like the other unsolvable problems that gnawed at me. For many, this is useful therapy. For me, it was like trying to understand the tree by rummaging through the leaf mould. Memories shift and change over time, rewritten by the brain into unreliability. Even eyewitnesses immediately after an accident will tell a different story. Fifty years of sediment, contradictory information, most of the eyewitnesses dead or lost to me. Forensic futility.

My past is a shapeless room with indistinct boundaries and grey walls.  On the floor are scattered photographs and paragraphs on torn bits of paper, all in no order at all, with no explanation, no clear meaning or significance. Disembodied emotions, half-remembered summers, scraps of dialog, tiny things with sharp teeth and staring eyes lurking under the detritus waiting to bite the fingers that probe beneath. Trying to make sense of it only leaves me curled up on the floor sobbing “Why?”  The healthiest thing I can do is to get up, go to the door, leave the room and close the door tightly behind me.  If anyone asks me to go in there again, I shall tell them firmly and politely “no”.  Been there, done that. How many moments of the present have I already lost agonizing over the contents of a grave?

It’s time to go. I make certain I’ve left nothing behind to offend the landowner, and give silent thanks that he chose not to put up gates or bars or “No Trespassing” signs. My trusty RAV bumps and bounces back onto the road, and I continue my journey.

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