By Douglas John Imbrogno | may5.2021 | WestVirginiaVille.com
I had to get out of town. Get lost, evade the race of human beings. Seek out geese and turtles, beavers and blue herons. Gunned the car 50 miles per hour, 70, 80. Slowed to make the left turn. Parked on white gravel near the trail head. The way forward was barred by a long rusted gate, hinged and anchored to a chest-high concrete post. Only footfalls allowed hereafter.
I grabbed my shoulder bag, stuffed with cold mango kumbucha, a Nicaraguan cigar, and a book of Auden poems. Plus my reading glasses in their bone-white case. I was not expecting to read in the woods, but you never know. Were the world to careen toward catastrophe after today’s lunch hour, you could do worse than to have your slim, hardback copy of ‘THANK YOU, FOG: Last Poems of W.H. Auden,’ purchased at The Strand in NYC, with you in society’s dying, gasping days.
Strode off. Past the marshlands, still somnolent in Winter’s final weeks. Halted my pace to admire a chorus by red-winged blackbirds, singing out their territorial harmonics at the tippy-top of trees. Walking. Striding. Trying to shrug off the news.
The awful news of traitorous politicians and punch-drunk proudboys. Of housewives who trumpet their spiritualized “Indian” name on social media while also warning demons possess the now-sane residents of the People’s House down on Pennsylvania Avenue.
“People are no damn good,” my father used to say, when exasperated by someone who cut him in off in traffic. Or who rudely raced to claim the sole grocery parking space though his car’s position gave him rightful ownership. He was a good man, although his hot Roman blood could erupt like Vesuvius when he railed at the daily injustices of living.
I am now a half-mile into the marshlands. Now, nearly a mile. There’s the river, the wide Ohio. A name descended from the Iroquois: ‘ohi-yo.’ Variously said to mean ‘good’ or ‘great’ river or ‘large creek,’ which the French translated as “La Belle Riviere.”
The beautiful river.
This cool April day, the river looks brown as milk chocolate and slow as molasses. I espy a power pole on its banks. A wooden stairwell climbs up via two landings to a deck where a breaker box hangs off a pole. This must be a small power source, to illuminate one of the red navigation shore lights by which the great coal-laden barges know their way up and down the river.
I climb to the first landing. Get out my glasses, don them. Check my phone. The world has not yet exploded. I de-power the phone. Remove my shoes. Sit my butt upon the pack, careful not to spear my feet and hands with splinters from the grey-cracked wood of the stairwell.
I can tell how high the river rises when it floods and crests — a brown film of mud notches a certain height upon the stairs. Plus, the plastic trash that will likely outlive the race that made it, which has maybe floated down from Pt. Pleasant or even Pittsburgh, mars the woodlands for a hundred feet in all directions.
I sit for a half-hour or so. The only sounds are the lap of river waves upon the shoreline, birds being birds, and wind wattling the branches of surrounding trees. Done, I pack up. Head down the stairs. Head off, re-tracing my footsteps through the marshlands.
I am glad the only conversation has been among Canadian geese, which bark among themselves while landing on the marshy waters and when taking off like tiny squadrons of jets. They leave no trace but the Doppler shifting of their resonant calls.
Back home, I unpack my pack. I look, pocket to pocket. Race to my car. Upend its many crevices. I begin to curse loudly and with as much foul-mouthed enthusiasm as my father — he was a good teacher. I’ve misplaced my — string of quite colorful and offensive expletives here — reading glasses.
This is no small loss. They’re not $15 Walgreens readers, but prescription. They cost a pretty penny — maybe $500 or more, if I recall right. And they’re essential to my work. Looking at screens, reading books, looking at more screens, is essentially what I do when I’m not taking an exit stage left into a marshland, in a fit of misanthropic contempt. Or, really, self-preservation.
I dig out from a drawer an old pair of readers to tide me over. Awakening early the next morning, I strike out for the marshlands again. Did I leave them behind upon that landing? Did I drop them while pulling out my phone to capture a red-wing blackbird solo?
I park at the trailhead once more. Retrace my every step. Walk the same footfalls, to the extent I can recall them. The path back to the power pole is an untrammeled one. Many people visit the marsh near the trailhead, yet I suspect very few keep going to the ohi-yo.
I see the landing up ahead of me. My too-expensive glasses will be waiting for me, yes. No. They are not there. They are not anywhere. I usually walk the marshlands looking up and out and all about. On my miles-long trek, in and out, this day, my eyes are cast downward. Scanning. Exasperated. Disappointed that I could be so mindless when I even helped edit a book on mindfulness.
Curses gather behind my tongue like an impatient gaggle of people eager to get into a hot nightclub. They seems always lined up there these days. And when you’re disappointed, when you’ve been an airhead being, when you let yourself get angry over some minor loss — because the minor losses are sometimes just stand-ins for bigger ones — it’s easier to let yourself give into the delicious, self-righteous anger of self-pity and of scorn.
Walking my way back to my car, my head’s a-grumble. Let’s see, can I afford a half-a-thousand dollars for new prescription glasses? Will cheap readers suffice? Will that orange eed-git ever get indicted for his crimes against America? What about Lachlan and Rupert Murdoch’s crimes against humanity?!? Man, it seems so many people are no damn good. And …
I reach the trailhead. Lift my head from the ground, ready to go to my car and leave off this futile search. What’s that thing upon the rusty gate’s concrete post? I go to it.
My glasses. In their white case. Someone has found them in the outback of the marshlands. They have walked them out to the trailhead. They have put them in the exact, one place — perhaps the only place — their owner might happen to gaze and see them. To reclaim them. To see clearly once again.
To ponder guardian angels in the form of random human beings. Looking out for one another.
One day, out near the beautiful river.