When I’m back in the city and on the subway, I tend to look at my book or at my feet and the feet of other people. I note the different kinds of shoes, their colors and states of wear.
Today is December 23, so there are shopping bags by all the shoes, held fast between lower legs and sometimes kicked out of the way of people coming and going. Bags filled with brown boxes and shoe boxes and stacks of folded clothes.
I’m sitting down, and a man stands above me with his back to me. Under his left arm is a cardboard box that says 6H on the side in thick permanent marker. He never turns around, and I never see him, but I know that he lives in 6H.
The Little River isn’t very little or rather
I don’t know what it is little in relationship to.
By the bank the water is smooth as paper
but in the middle my sneakered feet are unsteady
pulled by the current.
In the late eighties, when I was twelve, I went to a camp called Walking G Ranch. My sisters went, too. It was in the mountains of California, in Taylorsville, but now I have to look that up on a map because when you’re a kid you never know where you are. It was a working ranch, and we all got up early in the morning to take care of the animals – milk the cows and feed the pigs their slop – and sometimes at night, my friend Anne and I slept in the hayloft. On other nights, we rowed out to a little island in the middle of the pond. It felt immensely far, but it was just a pond.
Tomorrow is Spring Break – Monday, the start of the season – and kids and families and everyone will come. But tonight it’s still quiet (has been since the day after Thanksgiving), and I have the motel and the campfire and the geese all alone.
The trees say nothing of spring. They speak only of winter, with their bark and branches.
Only three cars are parked at the motel. Two big trucks and mine. Townsend is right next to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The town calls itself “the quiet side of the Smokies.” Seventeen miles down the two-lane Highway 321 is the other, not quiet side of the Smokies: Pigeon Forge, home of Dollywood.
Today was on fire. I drove under a mountain on fire, the sun red in winter trees.
The cars on the two-lane highway stopped to watch the sun and smoke. In Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the traffic usually just stops for bears, which you might see far off, a black rustle in leaves or branches, or not at all.
This July and August, I stayed at my friend Sarah’s apartment in Brooklyn while she and her family were in Vermont. The original plan was that I would cat-sit their black cat Buster, but they had a mouse problem at their Vermont place, so after ten days or so, they drove back into the city to reclaim Buster and put him to work.
Willa JarnaginSummer at the Brooklyn Army Terminal