She remembers a road that she walked along. Something about joy, maybe, something about light. It was her own lightness, or maybe it was the road’s. She walked it more than once, that week in September, a year past. There were rock walls fringed with pale asters. Tiny white butterflies hovered in sunlight, and the hills were green. That’s all that remained. A year ago, and it has faded.
But look, it is still here—all of it, still here! Or it has returned, rather, because the asters bloom only in late summer, and the asters are everywhere. By now the bees’ work is nearly done, except for these pale lavender flowers and their dark red centers, the bright white flowers radiating from yellow. There are ferns too, so many of them. Glens-full. Do you call it a glen? Still here, or here again. She had forgotten. Dark green in the shade, yellow in the sun, pine needles below, so fragrant.
The road curves and the sky opens, full of light. Up ahead a white fence and three horses, a landscape painting but it won’t stand still. The horses look up to see her pass by. Their heads are nearly still but their large eyes are watching. Two children dash up the hill and out of sight. They call to each other. A dog barks.
She wants to hold this. Please stop, time. Just this once. Just now.
But she keeps moving. She keeps walking. Past the white fence, the same fence she passed last year and had forgotten. The horses left behind, and the green field too. A cemetery now. Old stones standing in the waving grass, a picture she could walk into, but she won’t, she needs to keep going, to see all of it, if it’s still here, this place she remembers now inch by inch as it unfolds, as if she never left.
The warmth of the sun, her skin warming up too. Yes, this is it, she says. I have always been and will always be this way. But what way is this? Is it happiness? She was gone but she is back, and the asters flutter palely against the dark rock wall, the acorns fall from the trees and roll underfoot. Tall grasses with white tufted heads wave in unison, practically glowing, the angle of the sun just right then passing. Their bright heads toss and glow, all ripeness and verge. An invitation, to what?
The inflatable unicorn next to the real horse next to the white fence on the green, green hill. The child running past and the horse standing still. By the side of the road a table. Free, it says. Bottles of perfume in weathered boxes. Three silver wall hooks that spell J-O-Y. A weightlifter’s belt. She took the free items but her hands are still empty, except for the light and the breeze that fell into them, and the smell of hay. She took them and left them behind.
Another season of ripeness, of plenty, another curve in the road, unbidden and undeserved. Knees that work as they should, hips and heart too. Up the hill where a dog hides under a trailer, unhitched. She remembers him now, trotting out to the end of the road, ears up, watching her go by. Hello, puppy, hello. The dog trots back to the shade. She passes. She is a little bit hungry.
Around this curve there is a large rock. She remembers how she lay on that rock and tried to make time stand still, as if this might otherwise be gone forever, all of it, and yet here it is again. She lay there briefly once but not today. Yes, there it is, up ahead, now behind her, like time playing backwards. And then I will see this, and then I will see that, and then I will lie still and try to stop time.
Today among the roadside asters, among the faded stalks of golden rod and wild phlox, there’s a certain plant she has seen never before and nowhere else. Its stems are magenta, its leaves and berries green—a plant’s color scheme a reverse. It may be a kind of milkweed, a kind of pye-weed. Who knows? She’ll call it joy-weed and move on.
Today the world has opened its hand and held her up in its palm. Today is as simple as that. Simple as this farm stand, open to the road with not a person in sight. Sunflowers and pumpkins and tin cans full of cut flowers—zinnias, black-eyed susans. Leave your money in this box, only $5.95 a bunch. She wants to take them home, a souvenir, but not today. (Here they are, though. She gives them to you.)
Now walking up the hill, heart beating faster. A solar panel as large as a house tilts up toward the sun. Tiny white butterflies also in the sun, solar-powered. A far-off mooing. A squabbling on the tree bark. Like yesterday, or maybe the day before that, when the duck lifted off from the pond, its flapping wings roughing up the water. Such surprise.
There have been other days, so many of them forgotten. There will be darker days and other roads, but it will be too late in the day, too late in the season, or too early. There will be rock walls, and flowers of some kind. There may be horses, too, in a pasture with a white fence, who will turn their heads as she passes, as horses do. But there will be no open palm, no stopping of time, no looking out and over.
The rock wall is there in the darkness and in daylight. It has been here for a century, probably more, fringed by asters in the fall, bees going about their business as the grass waves in the wind. She was there once. She was happy. She remembers.
Photos by author.
Carolyn Kuebler writes fiction and essays, and in 2022 won the John Burroughs Nature Essay Award for “Wildflower Season” (Massachusetts Review). Other writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Common, The Literary Review, Colorado Review, and the Addison Independent. She lives in Middlebury, Vermont, and edits the New England Review.