–Wherever I am, I find that the road stretches both ahead and behind.–
From the airport lighthouse shine alternating beams of white and green light, ghostly sweeping columns in the crystalline air against the undersides of low-hanging clouds. Here, walking in this desert, I imagine a lighthouse perched on a craggy rock cliff, overlooking ocean waves beating themselves in ferocious crashes against the rock, and ships with trimmed sails rocking, taking on water, close to sinking, with frantic, frightened sailors looking to the light as to a savior, the only thing in the world they can cling to, trust in.
A shallow skiff of snow has fallen in the night on Rabbit Lane and the surrounding fields. It looks as if powdered sugar has been sprinkled heavily on the dark ploughed earth and green wheat shoots. The snow lies a little thicker on the flat surface of the road. Long, parallel tracks from tractors and trucks meander casually down the visible length of the road. Each tire leaves its signature markings, as if its own species traveling through the snow. Narrow, close, twin treads belong to the small front wheels of vintage tractors still used by some farmers. Wide treads with opposing diagonal markings belong to the tractors’ huge rear tires. Complex curved and angled markings are those of pick-up trucks.
The tracks of small animals run alongside the tire tracks. Dog. Cat. Skunk. Raccoon. Their tracks meander more broadly, straying from straight lines to collide with and be obliterated by the heavy tire tracks. Does nature always lose against technology? Tiny, articulate mouse tracks cross the road perpendicular to the truck tracks. I cannot tell if the mice have jumped into and over the tire tracks, or if the tires have tread upon the mouse tracks. Forked bird-foot prints appear randomly at places where the birds have dropped to peck for seeds and then fly back to the trees and bushes.
My tracks, the prints of my boots, leave their mark between the perfectly parallel tracks of machines. I purposefully meander within those tracks to join mine to the patterns of nature. Are mine the prints of technology or of nature? Perhaps they are neither, or both, or a symbolic attempt to buffer, to temper, to reconcile, and to harmonize? Whichever, our various tracks frequently converge.
I notice a set of boot tracks that seem to appear out of nowhere, and struggle to understand how that can be possible. These trampled tracks face several directions, connected to a single line of tracks leading to the bank of the irrigation ditch, then to another line of tracks heading back to the trampled area. Quickly I solve the puzzle. Someone has stopped his truck, jumped out, and walked to the ditch—probably to take a pee. Then the driver walked back to his truck and drove away.
The snow on Rabbit Lane is also marred by less flattering signs of human presence: hundreds of beer cans, beer bottles, and cigarette butts littering both roadside and irrigation ditch.
Between the various tracks lie areas of undisturbed, crystalline snow. As the sun rises above the mountain peaks to shine directly on the snow, millions upon millions of microscopic prisms reveal themselves in the snow crystals, sparkling in brief and tiny flashes of bright color.
Turning to retrace my steps toward home, I see the footprints I have left in the snow. I look into the distance after them, as if looking into my past. What brought me here, I wonder. Were my steps well placed? The rightness of where I am no longer matters: my steps have brought me here, and I cannot be elsewhere for the wishing. The rightness of where I am going is a more urgent question, answered one purposeful step at a time.
There. There is the house, with its covered porch and green shutters. In the house are my wife, the seven children we brought into the world, the piano, our books, my pen and paper, the dinner table, the crocheted rag rug at the foot of my bed.
Arriving home from my walk, I climb the stairs to my room and stand in the doorway gazing at baby Hyrum cuddled into his mother, nursing. Hyrum’s baby arm suddenly sticks itself up into the air from under the blankets, with his index finger extended. He slowly waves his arm and finger around, pointing at everything and nothing, as if remotely wandering the room, exploring.
I place on the dresser my hat and gloves, next to a long green-glazed ceramic dish, like a canoe hull, with stubby feet. My father brought it home from a business trip to Brazil when I was a boy growing up in New Jersey. The dish houses my collection of odd little things. Some have been there so long, buried by more recent acquisitions, that I have forgotten them. The collection sits high enough that the children know it is there but cannot see it.
“Can I see what’s in it, Dad?” asked John (5), bringing a stool from the bathroom.
He stood on the stool, on tip toes, admiring the collection with his eyes, but being careful not to touch. More recently, I have brought the collection down for the children to see and touch, and also to claim any items that might belong to them.
The collection changes constantly as I find new things and put away the old: a United We Stand pin, in red, white, and blue, from September 11, 2001; a button that came off my slacks two years previous and never was sewn back on; brass buttons from an old blazer that sits in the closet, now too small for me to wear; colored game pieces; three wheat-leaf pennies; a guitar pick with grooves worn in the sides where a child ran it up and down the steel strings; two marbles, one cracked; more assorted buttons, from various shirt collars and cuffs; wood plugs that popped out from covering banister anchor screws; polished rocks that wandered from bags the children brought home from the annual gem and mineral show; seeds from Mimosa and Locust pods; sewing needles and straight pins found on the floor, escaped from the children during their sewing projects; a tarnished copper Russian coin from 1791; Lego pieces; a watch battery, likely dead; small nails and screws; one piece of a 1000-piece puzzle; plastic necklace beads; striped Russian Olive pits from where they fell on Rabbit Lane.
The collection is there partly because I don’t enjoy finding little things scattered about the floors of my home. So, I pick them up one at a time and put them in the dish, not always wanting to take the time and the energy right then to find their proper place, but also not wanting to just throw them away. Each item is unique, admirable for its own peculiar qualities. Some are very old (the coin). Some are pretty (the beads and marbles). Some are functional and should be put back to use (the nails and screws). Some form part of a larger whole that is incomplete without them (the puzzle and game pieces). On another level, the collection reflects a fascination for small, beautiful things. Although I am a man, I am also still a boy, a boy that loves his treasure box as much as the little treasures it holds, and a boy that is reluctant to part with the possessions of a child. The green ceramic dish is my childhood pockets that once carried around marbles, pennies, and bits of string. Many children relish the competition of trading treasures with other children. But I relished the little things for the treasures they are.
A short while later, I gathered the children and proposed that I pull them in their plastic toboggans behind the truck in the snow on Rabbit Lane. They practically cheered at the idea. I tied three ropes of different lengths to the bumper, put the truck in four-wheel drive, and started to pull them slowly, gradually picking up speed. The children screamed and hollered with happiness, until the ropes crossed and tangled, the sleds jumped the ruts, and children tumbled out. My biggest worry was that a sled might skip into the ditch. We refined our ropes and speeds and enjoyed more sledding up and down Rabbit Lane. Except for red-faced and teary-eyed Hyrum (4), who sat in the warm truck recovering from his spill and eating a banana.