Editor’s Notebook: Nine miles down September Road
On this particular September Road, which runs between Warner and Salisbury, trees are already beginning to turn. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)
After Saturday morning coffee, I load four plastic storage bins into the back of the truck. The two closest to the cab are green and have red snap-on covers, and I wonder sometimes whether the Christmas colors make people think I’m lugging popsicle-stick ornaments, a Gordian knot of multi-colored lights, and artificial garland. They’d be disappointed if they looked inside – one holds a week’s worth of spent aluminum cans and the other is filled with what the transfer station calls “mixed paper.”
The other two, one gray and one green like the others, are an uncovered mixture of the remaining categories – corrugated cardboard, tin cans, plastic bottles – weighed down by lavender-scented Hefty bags stuffed with the unrecyclable residue of packaged lives.
Once this ordered, pungent mess is secured with a black cargo net and blue metal carabiners, I set off for the 10-minute trip to the transfer station, empty the bins, and head home again. Week after week, with only slight alterations to the script, that’s the routine.
This past Saturday brought a welcome wrinkle.
My oldest and closest friend lives in the next town over, and we made plans to meet up briefly at his house following the dump run. I considered taking my usual route on the main road, but because I was starting out from a different part of town I figured there must be a back way – and there is.
So I took it, the September Road.
All of the seasons here have stretches of perfection, but the first five weeks of calendar autumn exist in the “too perfect” realm typically reserved for dreams and Hollywood sets. It begins now, with the turning of a few trees here and there that catch the sunlight just so, and culminates in the silent, eyeball-numbing explosion of color that calls the tourists north. Every year I promise myself I will slow down time, I will notice as each green leaf makes the journey to orange, red, and gold, and each year I arrive at the doorstep of November feeling confused and cheated. How did I let the weeks slip away? The answer is delivered coldly: The seasons don’t care how tightly you hold them.
But let me share a secret. Right now, every road that’s not your regular road – the one you take to work every day or the grocery store on Sundays – is a September Road. With new eyes, the fields and wetlands on the fresh path are flecked with grace. Some days, if you quiet your thoughts enough and really connect with the landscape, you may find something you didn’t know you were missing. Joy, if you’re lucky, or maybe just a little bit of solace. I was looking for either on Saturday, and for nine miles I found flashes of both.
A minute after I arrived at my friend’s house, at the end of September Road, he met me in the driveway. Both of us had family members under the weather so we stayed there, six feet apart, and engaged in the small talk that these days amounts to the exchange of unanswerable questions. Has the fear and rage always been there, just under the surface in better times, even when we were kids? Do you think life will feel better next year, or ever? What will this country be like when the kids are grown, when they’re our age? What will be left for them?
We smiled wanly, arms out and palms to heaven. No answers, only weariness.
Soon enough, it was time for me to go, although I’m not sure why. There was nothing I had to do that couldn’t wait 30 minutes or three hours, but the imagined pressure of time wouldn’t let me be. Before I thought to put up a fight against the pulling, I was back behind the wheel headed south.
A mile on, I came to a stop where I had a choice. I could go straight and take the usual route that connects our two houses, or I could turn right on to the road less traveled. And then it occurred to me that it had been too long since I last visited my friend, and that I had visited with him only a handful of times since the pandemic began a year and a half ago.
All paths leading to his house had become less traveled. All roads to my old friend had become September Roads.
Looking back days later, the correct choice would have been to turn around, but instead I went right, into the trees just beginning to turn. For nine miles on the return trip I was distracted and had to keep reminding myself to drink it all in, all the beauty, because September Roads don’t go on forever.
Soon, the branches would be bare.
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