Autumn Road

Old Man McLeod leaned back in his metal folding chair and sighed.  He sipped slowly from his coffee mug and gazed through the steam at the explosions of colors in the trees.  From the wooden patio in front of his trailer he could see down the road.  Orange and gold trees arched over the road and rust-colored alders lined the ravines on either side.  He shrugged a little in his wool shirt and felt the heat of the autumn sun on his shoulders.  Yes, it was a beautiful autumn morning, maybe a little nippy but nice if you were in the sun.

He didn’t like being cooped up in his trailer.  He could still smell the smoke.  The rumor on the road was that someone had lit the fire out of spite.  That wasn’t true; it was a grease fire in the kitchen, but Old Man McLeod let the rumor be. The kids on the road messed less with his “No Trespassing” signs these days.  He was fine with that.

He watched her march up the road.  She was a queer one, without a doubt.  Multiple grocery bags weighed her hands.  She had short, spiky grey hair and matching metal rimmed glasses.  Her thick Indian-blanket jacket had been tied around her waist, and it gave her tiny frame a strange bulk.  A bag lady in Bucksport?  It didn’t make much sense on this rural road, traveled only by cars speeding through to other destinations and the occasional deer.   This road rarely saw pedestrians of any sort, much less bag ladies.

Then she did a very, very odd thing.  She let out a squeal and left the road, plunging into the alders in the ravine.  She emerged a few moments later and resumed her walk.  After a moment she set down one of the bags, tied it up, pulled another bag out of her pocket like a magician and resumed walking.  Strange bird, indeed: a squawk, in and out of the bushes, laying bags behind her, and always walking with determined, quick, purposeful steps towards somewhere.

She was such a curiosity that he couldn’t resist striking up a conversation when she drew parallel to his driveway.

“Ahem…. So, uh…. Whatcha doin’ over there?”

She stopped her brisk pace, lifted her gaze from the ground, and turned to face him with a smile.

“Well..!”  She set her bags down and folded her hands in front of her like two old friends.  “I like to go on walks for my health.”  She took a few steps down his driveway to stand within earshot. “I’d do this anyway, you see, but I just absolutely could NOT stand all the trash along the roadside.  It was ruining my walks: all the beer bottles and fast food containers, criminey!  It’s such a shame–those fast food eaters always throw out their wrappers!”  She paused in thought, “…but then I guess it would be hard to drive with a fork and dinner plate, wouldn’t it?!”  She laughed.  “Anyhow, one day I got to thinking and decided to pick up the trash.  So now I always bring a few bags with me.”

Old Man McLeod frowned.  “So you’ve got trash in those there bags??”

“Yes, trash in this one.  Bottles in this one.  Look,”  she continued, “See that jar balanced on the yellow pole over there, just past your driveway?  That’s my one mile mark.  I walk that far and then turn around.  I keep the road clean for a mile in each direction from my house.  When it’s the spring melt or if I’ve been away for a while the trash piles up, so I leave my bags along the road and drive back later with my car and pick them up and take them to the dump.  By the end of my walk I usually have made a dollar or two in recyclable bottles, and plus all the bending and stretching probably does me as much good as the aerobic exercise.”

He stood up; the lawn chair creaked as he stood.  He walked down his driveway to this strange little lady.   He towered over her.  She looked up at him and smiled.  “I’ve done this side of the road already, see?”

“The whole thing?”

“Yes.”

Old Man McLeod reached out and took a plastic bag.  Without another word he crossed the road and started walking and cleaning the other side.

[Image courtesy of Claire à Taiwan through a Creative Commons license]

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