The Path

I had driven by the house the very first time when I had moved to the farm eight years earlier. Set back about seventy yards from the county highway, rambler-styled, it angled east to west. It was the only house on the north side for at least a quarter mile, perhaps why my eye would gravitate to it. The side door opened east, with the distance to the ground being a standard three step drop. The steps were pockmarked masonry as was the sidewalk which extended southward and ended at the northwest corner of the gravel drive. The Path began there.

The house was older, built in the seventies. It looked to be on its third roof and needing another. The shrubbery lay as it wished, healthy in its disheveled green. Perennials offered color sporadically. Silver Maples, used as the decorative trees when the house was built, were positioned front and back. The roots had already begun their dismantling of the grass. Box Elders permeated the perimeter.

The Path was dirt. It actually began where the sidewalk concluded. Once it escaped the gravel, it turned into a three foot wide dirt path, crippling growth. At the end of the path was a white Adirondack chair placed on a pallet. The chair was flecked in white, grey where the white paint had chipped off. It looked sturdy but aged.

I was not a constant traveler of the road, but enough to where I would have opportunity, one would think, to catch a view of the traveler who journeyed the Path. Someone made it and sustained it. The Path was worn down inches below the crab grass lawn. There was no garage, but there was never a car either. The only activities that demonstrated life were the cut grass (no trimming) and the worn walkway. Winter showed a plowed driveway, but the Path was in hibernation then.

I had never seen a person, dog, or cat. Nothing. The sameness was a picture duplicated. I never ceased to look at the Path and then the house no matter which way I drove. I desired to see the Path Maker someday. I had an idea that it was someone who had limited mobility, that would walk daily, to the chair, rest, then back to the house. Exercise. A stroke victim perhaps. I was so hopefull see the Path Maker ambling along the straight darkened route. Funny, I always envisioned the person going to the chair and not from it. Perhaps because I mostly drove by during daylight hours. The sun would be away from his eyes while he rested in the chair. His movement definitely toward the chair. And it was a man, always a man.

He would have a cane. And his one arm would be strapped up, bent at the elbow, sometimes in a sling. Definitely a stroke position. He would be older, as strokes usually found the elderly. Of average height and a bit thin. He would have a cigarette dangling from his lips, positioned there until the chair could be secured. But this never happened, reaching the chair destination. He would always be half way down the path, heading toward the chair. If it was Spring, he would have a zip jacket on, unzipped. Fall would find him with a red and black checkered wool jacket, unbuttoned. He always wore a hat. Ball cap in the Spring and a wool Finnish logger hat in the Fall. It seemed that he wore sweat pants with some kind of tennis shoes, unlaced. The hair was thick, encasing his head completely in white. Tufts of it would push out from under the hats. He would be needing a shave most likely.

The walk would be a shuffle, with weight distribution heavily placed on the cane side. Head and face would be focused toward the ground immediately in front of his moving body, either studying the ground for movement purpose or because looking about while walking was difficult. He would move forward slowly but steadily. I never “saw” him trip. In fact, I never envisioned him falling. He was too self possessed for that to happen.

For years I looked for him, when the ride availed itself. He never showed. Once, I thought I saw the screen door complete its closing as I sped by. But when I looked back over my shoulder, the door was closed as always. That was the closest I came to “seeing him.”

In those years I lived at the farm, the Silver Maples grew to great heights and the boxelder plumed out in their disheveled ugliness. The chair remained positioned east. I even took to drive by midday on occasion, thinking on his chair placement, but he never materialized. Yet the path maintained a freshness that only use could conjure. I had thought to stop and introduce myself, but I knew this would take the “charm” away from my expectation. Seeing him on the path would illuminate it! I would wait.

The time came when I decided to move to a small city an hour and a half west of the farm. The movers came, friends and family, and we made the trip back and forth several times over one weekend. When all seemed to be in order at the new location and I slowly “de-accelerated,” I took one more trip to the farm for closure. The final inspection concluded, I drove east. I wanted to drive by the PathFinder’s house one more time. It had been at least a month since my last “visit.”

I felt quietly anticipatory. I had grown to admire the old man, his daily walk up the path, rest in the chair, and his return. How much effort did he require? Was it just for exercise or was there more gained? I found myself wondering if I really wanted to see him. Perhaps the path was more for me, its sameness, its “trial” or perhaps just its achievement? I followed the slow curve and began the straightaway that would bring the rambler into view.

Looking in my rearview mirror I could see the closest vehicle sufficiently distanced behind. I could take a little off my speed. As I slowed, I saw movement past the front Silver Maple. “It” went around the front edge of the house toward the side door. I slowed a tad more.

I passed the maple and could see the side steps; a little girl was standing on them covering her eyes. Two boys swept swiftly away, one around the back of the house and the other down the path toward the chair. Quickly I took a road bearing and glanced again at the boy running down the path. He was laughing. Soon the house was gone from view. So were the children.

I was not sure what I had expected, but never children. I drove a few miles further. Turning on an auxiliary road I poked into a driveway a quarter mile down. As the car idled, I wondered what had happened to the old man? I turned the car around and drove back toward his house. From this approach I could always see chair, the path and the house from further out. Now, the children were gone. Had there been a car? No car in the driveway, no kids; the path its same hard browness. Nothing seemingly out of place. Slowing a bit, I looked in the windows. Nothing. I shook my head. My eyes quickly swept down the path. At the end, there was the pallet. But the chair was gone. I pulled over. Opening the door, I slipt out and leaned against it. Squinting, I could see the sameness except the chair was gone. Where were the children? I wanted to see them. Or maybe I needed to see them. The minutes ticked by and the air “tainted” stale. Like an attic. All but the chair were cocooned in sameness. The chair was truly gone. And the children remained hidden. And I knew the man was gone.

About an hour from the new house I saw a red barn. A hay wagon stood next to it.

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