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Kathy Bradley: Off-road and cross country
KBradley mug web
Kathy Bradley - photo by Special

    From inside the house I can hear both sets of wind chimes clanging, harmonizing from opposite eaves, dancing madly like Russian Cossacks. The sun is high and the light is white. There is no good reason, no reason to stay inside.
    The ruts in the road have dried into peaks, crunchy beneath the footfalls that I am trying, unsuccessfully, to slow to a stroll. I am wondering: Is this sky really the bluest sky I’ve ever seen? Or am I just so glad, so astonished, so grateful that the clouds have been driven away and the gray swept aside that anything close to blue would seem bluest?
    To the crossroads and back is 1.8 miles. To the highway and back is 3.9. There is easily enough daylight left for the longer trek. My legs need stretching. My mind needs clearing. I will take the long way.
    And then, just as I get to the grain bins, just as the road begins to fall down the hill toward the red clay alley of pine trees, I change my mind. I leave the road and step over the shallow ditch into the field, littered with cotton stalks matted by days of rain. The fencerow that marks its boundary is not even a fencerow anymore — the wire and posts long gone — but it is along the fencerow that I walk, on a bed of autumn’s pine needles that my feet finally lose their rush.
    I didn’t bring a clip for my hair and the wind that is whipping across the field, that has gained speed and force over the flatness of nearly a hundred acres, has me tasting and brushing away curls with great flurry until I realize that all I have to do is turn my face into it. I can walk that way for a while, head turned to the side like a soldier passing a reviewing stand.
    The field begins to fall away, down toward the pond, and the wind softens. I can watch where I am going now. I can look to the side into the woods where we used to keep the horses, in the shade of the pine trees in the heat of the summer. I can find the place where the fence is still in place, bent into deep curves between splintered gray posts that lean at odd angles. I can see my tree, the one whose trunk makes me sit up very straight even as I lower myself to the ground for a good cry.
    I have not been here, on this fencerow, in a long time. Nothing and everything has kept me away. Nothing has prevented me from coming. No signs saying “Keep out!” No washed-out lanes or fallen trees or overgrown crops to block the way. Everything has prevented me from coming. People and places calling out, “Me! Me!” My own inertia.
    But I am here now. And it feels, of course, as though I always have been.
    I am at the corner. I turn from the fencerow toward the pond. This is the lowest spot of the field. There are still a few stalks of cotton stabbing the sky, end stalks rooted in land too wet for the cotton picker. I break off a stem. Three bolls, white as a Cloroxed dress shirt, dangle from the sharp brown burs. They are the remains. They are what is left. I walk on.
    At the edge of the pond a strip of green sprouts up. Grass. The promise of spring. I look down at my hand where the stem of cotton hangs upside down.
    Remember the grade school puzzles: Which of these is not like the others? I always figured them out. Always. I have always been good at categorization, at locating differences, at putting things into their places.
    This time I am not sure. Is the grass out of place? Or is the cotton? On this balmy January Sunday, am I to be amazed that grass has already sprouted or that cotton has managed to survive? Is one braver or stronger than the other? Is it a greater miracle to arrive ahead of schedule or to persevere long after others have given in?
    Up the hill now. I can see the top of the sycamore tree in Mama and Daddy’s backyard. The equipment shelter comes into view. The grain bins are in sight again. I turn back onto the road and head home.
    I remember now why I have to forsake the road sometimes. I can’t say how many miles I have walked, but I know exactly how far I have gone. Far enough to remember that coming and going are equally worthy of celebration, that running ahead and lagging behind are both respectful ways of getting somewhere and that the path you take can always be the one that leads you where you need to go.

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