, Newburyport, MA

December 18, 2012

One-eighth of a mile

Kathy Gates Milewski

---- — In this tortuously fast-paced world we live in, personal time for reflection is at a premium. We all seem to be looking for those few precious moments to take a breath, reconnect and refuel. Whether solace is found within the pages of a good book or poolside sipping margaritas in Bermuda, it without question can also be found in the most unlikely of places. Sometimes it’s as simple as paying attention and being more aware of your surroundings in order to be transported from this hectic world to a spontaneous moment of appreciation and comfort.

I found my “moment” one day while on my morning walk. I decided to venture out of my neighborhood, to the main road, which eventually led me to a small loop of “a road less traveled. After only 40 feet of walking down that pothole-ridden road, my childhood memories flooded in, and my “moment” of awareness began.

The road itself was narrow, maybe 12 feet wide, and the view to the distant turn looked as if I were entering a tunnel. Lanky, sprawling tree limbs from the left careened over the moss-filled, cracked pavement below, marrying with a few tree branches that lined the opposite side. To the right, five beef cows varying in color lay nestled together in the short grass of the marshy field, while others meandered along the small brook that weaved its way through the whispering grasses and sparse short pine trees.

As soft breezes blew, the sunlight gently filtered through waving leaves and the air was filled with conflicting scents. The sweet smell of wildflowers married uniquely with the damp, earthly, autumn leaves strewn carelessly about the pavement. The pasture, enclosed by a makeshift fence constructed from wire and odd-sized tree limbs, created its own unique aroma: a concoction of field grass and wetland plants. Disintegrating tree branches littered the roadside; they smelled of rot and earth.

I could hear small creatures fluttering and skittering swiftly through the fallen dead leaves along the roadside bank. As I walked, I carefully avoided the middle of the road, as it was raised up higher than the sides, still heaving from the previous winter’s frost. Some cows looked at me as I walked by and once assured that I posed no threat, went back to their breakfast.

As I approached the corner turn, I noticed a short dirt road, grass growing down the middle portion, leading to what seemed to be a hidden field. Just beyond the side road, I could see a tired, dark, small A-frame house ahead to the left. A small plot of grass linked the road to the fence line just before the house and beyond it I could see a distant grassy field peeking out from behind the tall, overgrown shrubbery. From the right back corner of the field, an old grain truck with a faded red cab and silver metal hauling compartment seemed to stare back at me with its oversized headlights. The field, the truck, the smell of cow manure wafting up my nose; my childhood memories were reaching their peak.

That moment lasted less than 30 seconds, but it was enough. After a short incline, the road turned and I saw a tiny gray house to the right, situated not more than 6 feet from the road. Beyond the house, a barn, where I assumed the cows made their beds at night. As I approached the house, I spotted a very still gold and white tiger cat glaring at me from behind an artist’s rendition of a cow made from re-purposed metal milk cans painted whimsically in white and black, with pink udder accents.

There were two old cars to my left and on my right a collection of discarded metal items, a tattered blanket, various sized wooden planks, and a random car tire left in disarray near the barn door. An old Farmall deep orange-red tractor was parked a few feet ahead.

As I continued, I spotted two abandoned shacks on either side of the road, nestled among a tangle of broken branches and overgrown vines. A few windowpanes were missing and the silver gray wooden siding appeared saturated from years of rain and snow. As I refocused on the road ahead, I suddenly realized that I had left my childhood memories behind me, and I knew it was time to move on.

In that one-eighth of a mile, I was transported back to my childhood. I revisited the farmhouse I grew up in, located just down the road from the state university farm where the cows and the cow manure were abundant.

I journeyed to a field in upper state Vermont, and drove down the dirt road with the grass growing in the middle that led to my parents’ lakeside camp. I could hear the sound of the station wagon’s tires churning over the rocks and sticks and I could see my brother picking tart green apples from the trees that lined the road.

I walked the path that led past the small trailer park and led me to a simple, open, green hillside that boasted a panoramic view of the mile-wide lake. Weather-worn stone walls, large rocks forming small caves and cow patties littered the landscape. A few cows feeding on the hillside lifted their heads as I walked by, their jaws never ceasing to chew. I could smell the sweet wildflowers and the pasture grass and I could see a forlorn, dilapidated shack and an abandoned pickup truck resting along the tree line. It was like going home.

In just one-eighth of a mile I found my “moment” when I was least expecting it. Those few steps along that pothole-laden road sent me deep into my memories, back to happy childhood days when life was simple and carefree. Thankfully, I can relive those memories every day, just a few steps from my front door, but what’s even more exciting is the idea that more “moments,” more triggers to happy memories await me as long as I pay attention, live in the moment and appreciate the spontaneity that life offers.


Kathy Gates Milewski lives in Merrimac.