We’ve just walked away from an injured gannet in the dunes. I can’t stop thinking about it. I know it will die in the night and I cannot save it. I tried to save an injured raven earlier in the week, and it died that night, in a cage in a hospital, far from everything it knew. I am with the gannet and the raven in my mind as we come over a rise in the sand and encounter a couple walking toward us.
“Further on, what is the trail like?” the man asks. His accent tells me that his trip here has been so much longer than mine.
“It curves up there and you continue along the shore,” my husband says.
“Is it like this?”
I break in. “You can go two ways up there. Over the dune and to the beach.” Where the gannet is, I am thinking. “Or along that curve.”
His wife looks at me. “The sand. Is it sand all the way?”
Ah. Now I understand. “Yes,” I say to her. “It is mostly sand, but there are easier parts.”
“Thank you,” she says, and they continue on their way.
The woman at the counter asks where we’re from. “Western part of the state,” I say. She asks for a location. I tell her the name of our small town, give her a landmark to center it.
“Oh, yeah,” she says. She names a town about forty minutes away, says that’s where she lives. I mention places I’ve been nearby. We smile at each other.
“This is the first year that the American Bald Eagle has come to live there.” She says it that way, everything capitalized with joy. “We just love watching them together out there.” She smiles even more. I imagine the eagles outside her house.
The grocery store is busy. There’s little space in the aisle, and people are jostling each other’s carts as they hurry along. The man is very old, and very frail, and dressed in a seersucker suit. He waits patiently for the people rushing by, holding the handle of his cart with both hands.
We step to the side and let him by. He pauses as he moves past, looks me in the eye and says, “Thank you.” I nod at him. A moment later he is lost in the crowd.
The salesperson in the store who’s choosing my son’s clothes for a funeral is a butterfly of a man, with his brilliant vest and tie, tiepin and cufflinks. He talks to me as we wait outside the dressing room, tells me about his wife and his church and his sons.
He is concerned that my son will not know how to tie his tie. This is likely because I have come in as the opposite of a butterfly, in jeans and old lady gray hair, and I’ve forgotten my wedding ring, which I remove when writing or kneading dough and often forget to return. I look like a tired single mother headed to a funeral with a young man who needs instruction.
“I’ve taught so many men to tie ties,” he says. “In the store, at church, on the bus. I have to do it. You see these young men and they’ve got their ties jacked up, and that’s one thing you don’t want. A jacked up tie.”
“You’re right,” I say, no idea what he means.
There is a couple on the trail along the mountain. The woman is working on playing Olympic level hockey, she tells us. “Do you know where this trail goes,” she asks. “We’re lost, and I have a game tomorrow.”
“Come with us,” we say. “We’ll show you where to go. Do you need some water?”
There is a family carrying jugs of orange soda on a path that goes seven miles along the ocean and through the woods. They are a third of the way. “Do you know how much longer this goes,” asks the mother, the skin on her nose peeling from old sunburn.
“A long way still, if you’re going all the way around,” we say.
There is an elderly man walking alone. He’s in the woods still, but not far from where we were just swimming in the ocean. “Do you know how much further it is,” he asks. “I’ve been hearing the sound of the waves again and again, and thinking I must almost be there, but it’s always the wind in the trees instead.”
“Almost there. It’s so close, and all downhill at this point,” we say.
Do you see me?
Do you know how much further it is to the trail’s end?
Do you know how hard it will be?
Will I find my way to that place?
Will something of me linger, my footsteps on the stone or sand, the sound of my voice in your ear, long after I have found my way to the end of the path?
If I give you the smallest bit of who I am, stranger, will I remain in the world that much longer?
We are traveling. I see you there, along the way. I will share my water. You will share your apple. We will remember each other, in some way, at some stop along the trail, listening to the wind in the trees.