Some of the things it’s possible to do while walking the six-mile block you walk every day when you’re back in the land where you grew up:
Look north to the foothills of the Adirondacks and think, as you always do, how cool it is that a fifteen-minute drive behind the wheel of a car will bring you into the six million-acre Adirondack Park itself.
Lift your hand in greeting to each and every car that comes toward you, and watch as each and every driver lifts his hand back to you.
Notice that a few pairs of underwear are colors other than blue, black or white. Wonder if these colored undies are breaking a covert Amish rule. Decide that the answer is no, because otherwise they wouldn’t be hanging on the line for all to see.
Take a left on Crill Road and wait for the flock of wild turkeys to cross. Take your time, wild turkeys. Note a line of them in a distant field, walking single file with their heads bobbing up and down. Recall that your father told you they follow the manure spreader, picking out the corn that the cows didn’t absorb.
Think about all the wild turkeys you’ve seen lately: walking down the sidewalks in northeast Minneapolis, flocking on either side of the road the entire length of the Natchez Trace, and now here in upstate New York. Decide that wild turkeys are taking over the highways and byways of your fair nation, and wonder where it will all end.
Walk past this barn, which is the barn you grew up playing in, and think of all the hours you spent in it. Hayforts. Hay tunnels. Hay rooms underneath haystacks, in which you read by flashlight. Years of trying and not always succeeding to avoid the gaping holes in the floorboards. Think how great it is to be in your unsafe homeland, how great it is that those gaping holes are still there in the barn, along with the wide-open rectangles in the far wall. Decide that your nephew, the one who “fell” twenty feet to the ground out one of them and came up laughing, didn’t fall but leapt.
Count the number of Amish baked goods signs along the six miles and wish that it were Friday. Consider the spelling of “donut” as opposed to “doughnut.” Come down firmly on the side of “doughnut” but recognize wearily that you are out of step with the rest of the world when it comes to doughnuts.
Ask yourself: if this were Friday, which kind of Amish do(ugh)nut would you buy? There is no question: Cream Filled. The minute you decide on Cream Filled, immediately change your mind to Glazed. Decide that if this were Friday, you would buy four of each and take the whole box –wait, do the Amish use boxes?– home to your parents.
Wonder why, in recent years, you crave the wide-open west so much instead of these foothills and mountains you grew up in. Wonder if you’ll someday trade your one-room plumbingless shack on the slope in Vermont for a one-room plumbingless shack in Montana. Realize, as you walk the six miles of this block, that the wide-open west and the land where you grew up have much more in common than you ever thought.
Stop by and say hi to a friend. Wonder why the photo of his grave is so much bigger than your other photos.
Keep walking. Walk to the house where your friend and his wife lived. Walk across the grass and sit on the front steps of their house. Look out over the fields stretching south, the fields and the woods, and talk to him. Charlie, I’m sitting on your front steps. I’m looking out over the valley. Remember how you always told me it was God’s country?
Keep walking. Walk down the road to where your friend’s brother lives. See him coming out of the barn. Start to run so that you can catch up to him before he goes into the house. See him stop walking when he sees you coming. Listen as the first thing he says is, “I like your sneakers, Alison,” with his head down. Listen to yourself say, “I’m so sorry,” as you both start to cry. Sit on the porch with him and his wife for a long time, talking.
Stay up late with your father, sitting across the kitchen table, talking. Get up early and go to the diner with him next morning. Ride shotgun in his car as he drives you down the dirt road to the ten acres they’re having surveyed, because you can’t stand the thought of not having a piece of this land once the Amish have bought their place and they leave it. Stand with your father by the edge of the ten acres and point to a knoll that would be a pretty place to put up a plumbingless one-room shack.
When you leave next morning, have a hard time leaving.