Pretend you have grown wings and are flying high in the night sky above the Homestead, in far upstate New York, about five hours driving distance north of New York City. (The fact that New York State geography is defined by its relation to New York City is annoying to you, but you accept it as part of the burden you must bear.) Feel the cool air on your tired body. Your wings rise and fall with a steady power. Your gaze is fixed on the distant horizon, where foothills begin their steady rise to the Adirondack Mountains. You look down at the only lights you can see, which are the headlights of a small truck, climbing slowly over hill and dale. The truck appears to be searching for something – not that you can tell, overtly, that the truck is searching, but it is something that you, with your extrasensory powers and ability to fly can sense.
Let us now descend for a closer look at this small truck. Fold your wings and dive downward. Swoop up as you draw near. What manner of vehicle is this?
Why, it is a Northwest Airlines baggage delivery truck. And where might you be heading, sir?
“I’ve got a bag to deliver to an address on Route 274.”
And is there a problem?
“I got no idea where the hell I am. I don’t even know if I’m on Route 274. There’s no signs.”
Are you worried?
“There’s no signs,” the truck driver says again. “It’s completely black out here. Does anyone actually live this far out in the woods?”
The truck driver pulls a small phone from his shirt pocket, flips on the cab light, and punches in some numbers.
“Hello? Are you the lady whose bag went missing at the Syracuse airport? Yeah. Well I’ve got it in the truck and I’m trying to find you.”
“I don’t even know if I’m on the right road.”
Pause. The truck driver turns off the cab light and peers through the windshield, craning for a glimpse of something. Anything.
“Well,” he says. “There’s lots of trees.”
“You’re standing on your front porch with a flashlight?” he says.
He flips shut the phone. “She says she’s standing on her front porch with a flashlight,” he mutters to himself. “She says she’ll guide me in. Jesus.”
Rise into the night sky again and peer through the darkness. The headlights of the small truck recede behind you as the driver makes his anxious and untrusting way further into the blackness. Will he find his way to the Homestead? For that is where he is headed, with the Matriarch’s lone lost rolling suitcase safely stowed behind him.
What is that we spy in the distance? Could it be? It is. Miles north, a woman stands on her front porch, holding a flashlight angled toward the North Star. It is the Matriarch, woman of light.
Behind you comes a cry of joy.
“I see the light!” the truck driver says to the dark silence of his cab. “It must be her!”
The Matriarch waits with the infinite patience of a woman used to guiding strangers to the Homestead. Her flashlight, freshly supplied with three “D” batteries, shines its light to the indifferent heavens. Now there is a crunch of gravel on the compacted dirt of the driveway. Now a man leaps from the cab, his arms spread wide. He envelops the Matriarch in a hug. He was lost, and now he is found.
“Thank you,” he murmurs. “Thank you.”
The Matriarch smiles the calm smile of one used to this scene. Those who can bear the darkness of a Homestead night, those who can take the blackness without believing themselves lost and forsaken, those who can turn off the lamp when they go to bed and see no light but the light of a million stars clustered in the heavens, are few. And the Matriarch knows it. She offers the man her flashlight.
“Would you like it?” she says.
He accepts it as he would accept holy water offered by the Pope and cradles it between his fingers.
“Here’s your bag,” he says, retrieving it from its place behind his seat. “Good luck to you.”
And off he goes, red taillights receding in the distance as he rounds the curve at the unmarked intersection of Fraser Road and Route 274, here in the starlit Homeland, where few dare to tread.