My last memory from that time? That I was never to return to it.
As I ran to the rhythm of my breath, the beat of my heart provided the music of being alive. I took a hill, not as bad as it looked; steep but short. Chestnut was a single-lane road that cut through the back of town and led me onto Bishop Farm, where I picked up Maple Lane.
Dotted with sugar maples, Maple Lane wound out ahead of me, and like a lazy letter S, it snaked around for two long shaded miles. The sycamore trees had limbs that reached across the sky like Rorschach spills. The sweat on my back saturated my T-shirt, clinging like a second skin. The road had been nothing but dirt for over a hundred years; though the town kept threatening to pave it, they probably never will. A good part of the trail was a long narrow easement that took me past a mile of farmland. The dirt kicked up a gentle cloud of dust under my feet, soft and dry. The smell of freshly hoed hay and country pine lingered in the air.
Maple Lane begins and ends at Pindar Corners, a fork in the road with a blinking light. I picked up Robin’s Nest Road from there, turning left at the traffic signal, as I always did. How many times? I’m not sure. But I do know this, or thought I did: Robin’s Nest is the road I lived on with my wife, Adina, and our children, Teddy, who was eight at the time and Lindsey, who hadn’t yet turned six.
The scent of flower gardens hit me like a perfumed galaxy, overwhelmingly intense, from the abundance of flowers hidden behind picket fences and green bristly privacy bushes, odiferous and colorful. I saw irises, lilies and peonies that tilted in the breeze and slipped their scents toward me with flirtatious artistry.
Hundreds of times, I have picked up fragrances whispering from the mountains. You see, for me, one of the pleasures of jogging on a country road was catching smells. Even running through traces of horse manure carried in the wind, or the mysterious scents of unrecognizable plants and animals just behind the weeds, scents like that thrilled me. Might be perceived as such a small thing but it isn’t, not when sweet, scented air was such a new thing for me.
I breathed in deeply. I took in passionflower vines climbing up trellises, a cacophony of color. Sometimes I can catch freshly cut grass and the sizzled scent of meat lingering on a barbeque, whetting my appetite for lunch.
Robin’s Nest Road is paved and wide, and I liked it because it dead-ends; the only drivers who take it know exactly where they’re going, and trucks are rare. Sometimes, I could run right down the middle with my arms outstretched. Feeling good for me was sweating hard ... feeling good for me was pushing up the last half mile, knowing I'd make it.
Jogging kept me centered ─ going at my own pace, my thoughts a free association of expression. No race to win, just moving through the silence of my mind, despite the rare chatter of birds or the occasional challenge of estival winds.
The only smells picked up back in New York City were mornings drenched in the stench of garbage and the rancid, putrid odor of the homeless inhabitants who lined the streets of midtown. I tried not to think about that because I was one of the lucky ones: I wasn’t there. And I was where I was because of the foresight of a man a lot smarter than I am. I was in Pindar Corners. A place you might want to be a hundred years from now, or maybe a hell of a lot sooner.
The reasons why I was there, in Pindar Corners, were too complex to fathom. Mistakes too great to lament. There was no sense dwelling on the past at all. Best to just breathe in deeply and try to let it go. Besides, there was nothing we could have done about it. No, nothing. Just concentrate on the aroma of gardenias, orchids and the delirium of lilac, and forget about everything else. We still had flowers, some species of birds, animals like skunks and rodents. We had life, and most of all, we had the solace and the surety of Pindar Corners.
However, the luxury of forgetting was the one thing I couldn’t accomplish. I was a generation too late for that. And as I jogged that day, the sound of a distant gunshot jarred the aromatic titillation of my senses. So loud, it practically threw me off my feet. It certainly wasn’t hunting season. I knew that well enough, but there were those who didn’t give a damn about laws. Could have been someone wanting to frighten off a black bear. Then again, plenty of people liked target shooting in their back yards. It might have been some bored jerk shooting cans off a fence. Or it might have been one of the children. I don’t think I was able to let in that fear. As far as I knew, there had only been one murder in Pindar Corners committed by a child. Maybe the shot I heard was just random and unintentional. That was my thought that day: that was my prayer.