Wednesday of this past week I made a delivery in Cobleskill, New York. Afterwards, I decided to make some lunch in the RV for two reasons: I was required by the DOT to take 30 minutes off within the next hour and there was a MacDonald’s inside the adjoining Wal-Mart Supercenter. An after-meal coffee would make a good day better.
After a decent lunch consisting of meat loaf I set sail through the parking lot to grab my caffeine fix. Halfway to the door, I spotted a bumper sticker that made me stop and consider its message. I liked what it said immediately, so much so that I snapped a picture of it with my phone. “Who is this John guy?” I wondered. “He is lucky that only the mountains call him. Everything calls me, sometimes all at once. It can be problematic.”
After making my way inside the corner of the Wal-Mart I was happy to see I had the good fortune to enter on the side that contained the Mickey D’s. No long walks through a cement monstrosity with too many people of questionable dress, morals, class- you know what I mean. My happiness grew when I noticed there was no line. I would be in, out, and on my way with no trouble. It was soon after the girl behind the counter asked if she could help me that the trouble began.
“I’d like a medium coffee, cream and sugar, and an apple pie if you have them.”
“Would you like two apple pies for a dollar?”
It felt like my brain stopped. These are questions meant to make you feel like an idiot if you say no because it’s surely the deal of a century or why would they mention it? I tried to visually do math in my head. I saw an apple pie in my left hand and another in the right. “Jason has two apple pies. He only wanted one, what should he do with the other? He could put the extra in the fridge, but how would it reheat? He’d probably end up throwing it out. Wait a minute- Jason should not have even one apple pie. They can’t be healthy, two might be lethal.” I figured this out rather quick, yet it seemed to take forever for me to answer out loud, “No thanks.” She took my money, gave me my change and went about retrieving my goods right about the time a second wave of trouble showed up.
I was looking around, taking in the people of Wal-Mart while I waited. A family with two shopping carts, one small kid passenger in each, was approaching from behind my left shoulder. I accidentally looked mom in the eye and she was looking back at me, smiling. I casually looked away, especially because a man was with her, likely her other half. But that smile, and how she looked at me, it was as if she knew me. “Let me look again,” I thought, so I did. They were now almost next to me, and she was still looking at me smiling that smile and it was causing me to become uncomfortable. They parked their carts at the end of the McDonald’s counter where orders are placed. One cart was filled to the brim. The other one was half full; together they probably contained two-hundred dollars of new stuff, only half of which was likely necessary for survival.
It was such a weird situation to be in. I looked over again to see if this whole thing was a fluke and to determine if I found her pretty. I hadn’t decided earlier- there was something about her that reminded me of a lady in my hometown who I don’t care for. So I took a risk and looked again. She was now ten feet from me, carrying on a conversation with her companion (who I was certain was well-armed) and leaning in my direction, smiling away at me like always while making direct eye contact. I looked at my feet to make sure I was wearing clothes, and then back at her. She had this natural brown hair, parted in the middle that reminded me of a style that might have been popular in the 70s. Her face, wearing a happy expression, was mostly sunny. I couldn’t put it all together as panic was setting in. I tried sending her a subliminal message: “Knock it off lady, what’s wrong with you. You’re gonna get me shot, or possibly knifed- either way it will probably hurt.” The dude walked behind me, but hasn’t looked at me, I’m guessing because he hated me. I tried to keep him in my peripheral vision due to concerns about my safety. There was little doubt all three of us knew what was going on and I wanted no part of it.
“Here you go sir, have a good day.” My server handed me what I had asked for and nothing more.
“Thank-you much,” I replied as a huge wave of relief settled over my entire soul. I was free to go.
I guess it’s possible the smiling woman’s companion could have been her brother, a friend, but certainly not her father. Whatever the case, a man accompanying a woman is always the protector, a wing-person of sorts to help keep a journey out of the house on the up and up. In his absence, I may have said, “Hello,” or at least briefly chatted up the adorable little kids in the shopping carts. Small children are the best to converse with. Last weekend I went to my son’s basketball game and started talking to a small boy next to me in the stands, he couldn’t have been more than four. I asked him about the toy in his hand, he went on to tell me about his Spider Man sneakers and how awesome the hoodie he was wearing really was. There’s rarely drama when talking with kids (unless they’re your own) and everything is magically important, even the most minuscule of inanimate objects. And if they smile at you, it’s an easy invitation to say hi. But if a grown woman with hair that has a natural wave reflecting her inner energy smiles at you, its best time to leave, especially if you’re emotionally and physically unavailable such as I was. So anyway, pretending I was smarter than I really am, I left.
I went out to the RV and enjoyed my apple pie while giving thanks I didn’t have to deal with a second apple pie. I glanced at the computer near my dash. The bottom line flashed the nearest town name, the current duty status, how long I’ve been in that status, and the active trip number. So far, I had racked up 27 minutes off duty in Cobleskill, 3 more minutes to go before I could put the RV in gear and get back to work. That was plenty of time to go for a walk. I looked out the passenger window of the RV and noticed that behind the shopping center there was a hill descending into wide-open fields that were draped in some light snow. “I’ll go have a look,” I thought before grabbing the camera. I almost left without the camera. There have been far too many instances when I have departed without the camera and had to come back for it because something begged for a picture. It always costs me time when I have to return for the darn thing so I have evolved enough to automatically bring it along.
I began walking on the other side of a metal guardrail that separated consumerism and nature, the latter of which I truly adore more than most anything. I was a good fifty feet from the RV when a man from the Rent-A-Center I just delivered at approached slowly in the store’s delivery van. He was wearing sunglasses, smoking a cigarette and seriously eyeing me up. I could almost hear his thoughts: “Why is the Ashley guy walking into a field? Should I ask if everything is okay?” Not all of the drivers in our company like to run off into nature every chance they get the way I do, so it was probably confusing to him. Perhaps he was worried that three days later the RV would still be sitting parked and the phone calls for a missing Ashley employee would begin. My friend might have offered, “I saw him walking off into a field shortly after he made his delivery” and everyone would be all like, “Why didn’t you stop to ask him if he was okay? Why, man, why?”
I tried to release his worries of my imagination by nodding slightly and trying to make my camera visible, as if I were saying, “It’s okay- I’m a professional on a mission. Nobody is going missing today.” He nodded back and drove away; a huge relief to us both that it was over. I was glad he was gone because by now, a tree had caught my eye. We could be together uninterrupted.
She sat deeply rooted down a steep slope, well-developed arms shooting out in all directions; she was beautiful to look at. I got within half of a football field. “I’m not going any closer, no time for that. I can get a decent picture from here. Wait…is that a small stream running by her trunk?” I walked closer. Sure enough, a brook almost three feet wide meandered by her roots. It looked like such a peaceful place to be. I promised myself that if I ever have the customer behind me as a first stop, I might show up the night before, put down a blanket next to her trunk, lie down, close my eyes and become one with everything for a bit.
I spent a few minutes in her presence at the bottom of that hill, simply admiring her elegance among everything else good in these open fields. I had forgotten that behind me were many stores, people making financial transactions by the second. It’s amazing that everyone in modern history (sans me and a few other like-minded individuals) can be so caught up in commerce that they can’t find the truly special things not far from the storefronts. This was not a predicament exclusive to my current situation- I often run around in more remote natural locations and wonder why I am the only one there. Winter, more specifically, a good coating of snow, offers precise visual evidence that I have been the only human to tread through a certain part of god’s country. Sometimes I ask how that could be. Other times I remember the solitude is why I like it so much. (I’m reminded of a quote by Charles Bukowski when asked if he hates people: “I don’t hate them….I just feel better when they’re not around.)
With the photography session over, I figured it was time to go. I ascended the hill with my mind still on my new tree friend. I wondered if she appreciated my appreciation. Trees are living things with feelings; they even have the ability to communicate with each other on down the line, the first World Wide Web if you will. I didn’t get the feeling she got many visitors outside of birds, so she must have liked the attention. I crawled back over the metal guardrail back into humanity. I looked down in the snow-covered grass as I walked.
“Wait…is that what I think it is?”
Yes, the snow had parted in the grass to form a heart-like shape. A symbol delivered to me via the universe that my tree, or Mother Nature herself, appreciated that I was kind enough to have a look around. It was a Barney moment: I love you, you love me, we are happily wrapped up in our mysteries.” How wonderful this tail end of a lunch half-hour accidentally turned into 40 some minutes had become.
Two days later, I listened to a You Tube documentary about John Muir while I drove off somewhere. I’m not sure how or why I never heard of him. Perhaps, I wondered, we learned about him in school. I don’t recall much of what I was supposedly taught during my school days. All my good lessons came after I walked away from the doors of conformity. John’s story was amazing- after an industrial accident that left him temporarily blinded in both eyes, he set sail for what wound up being the west and its glorious mountains. It changed him, in a good way I think. What if his accident had never happened? Listening to his story made me want to hit the battery in my RV with a hammer in such a precise manner that acid in the protective plastic case would fly into my eyes resulting in me leaving my current occupation and setting sail for the west on a discovery of my own. It’s too risky to try because luck might have it that I’d never see again. I’ll instead keep my eyes healthy so that I can see girls within mortar buildings, trees in nature, stuff like that. Using my sight and mind, I’ll eventually find my own way. Every now and again I get a sign that I’m on the right track. Everyone gets that same sort of thing, most don’t know where to look or aren’t aware they should be looking at all. (You should always be looking.)
I may not always understand women, relationships or even humanity as a whole. Out in nature, just on the other side of a fence (or guardrail) everything becomes much clearer. In the premise of “Ask and you shall receive,” dear universe, more of that please. While it might be cool to see a quote of my own a bumper sticker somewhere down the road, I’d happily settle for making the acquaintance of some new trees. After all, each of them smiles in their own way and it’s never weird to me.