Stop

Driving, faster than I should,
on a Sussex County road,
through a tunnel of green.
Windows rolled down, and music playing.
Thick August branches full of heavy august leaves
hanging low. Blocking sunlight. Throwing shade.
Making the late morning feel like early evening.
I think about the shifting season.
Soon the greens will be gone.
The clock speeds up this month, as we get ready to fall forward.
The changes seem to come more quickly.
More noticeably.
Faster than they should.

I drive into the sunshine.
Off to my left, a cornfield.
Acres upon acre of stalks,
as tall as they will ever be.
The Appalachian Ridge in the distance.
A wall of greens rising up to touch the bright blue sky.

For miles there are no signs of humanity.
No other cars. No houses. No mailboxes.
Just the curving winding road
that gently rises and falls.
I hit my driving stride on these ups and downs and esssses.
I accelerate on the inclines
and release the gas pedal just as we dip down.
A rural roller coaster all to ourselves.
I love these empty roads.

Up ahead in the distance I see a sign of life,
interrupting the natural order of things.
A bright red stop sign.
A crooked three way intersection
where the road curves to the right.
A lane off to the left wants to merge with the road I’m on.
I can clearly see that no one is around.
No cars. No tractors. No hikers or bikers.
There is no reason to stop there, I think to myself,
as I debate, and then slow.

The lane is empty, and long.
It melts into the tall grasses
and fades into the ridge in the distance.
No one ever comes down that road. I think.
I don’t think any one ever comes down that road.
There is no reason to stop there. I say aloud.
Why would I have to stop here? I ask.
As I stop there.

I look around.
There is no one coming toward me.
Just the empty road ahead.
There is nothing to my right. Just trees.
There is no reason to stop here.
I look to the left.
Knowing full well that I will see nothing.
I am staring down what may have once
been someone’s very very very long driveway,
or an old fire road.
It is lined with bushes, covered in gravel,
and random weeds.
No one is coming.
Of course no one is coming.
No one will ever be coming.
There is no reason to stop here.

No reason to stop here. I say again,
half wondering why I did.
I stare down the lane in mild disbelief.
And just as the words come out of my mouth,
I watch
as a big brown bear crawls out of the weeds.
My eyes open wide, I inhale deeply,
and firm up my foot on the brake,
to be sure that I remain perfectly still.
There he is, so close to us.
A gorgeous creature,
Lumbering across the lane.
Hey bear! I yell, (but as a salutation,
since I am safe in my vehicle)
Hey bear! I say.
As I do he turns,
and looks right at me.
And knowing exactly what ‘Hey bear’ usually means, he picks up his pace.
He quickly crosses the gravel lane
and disappears into the tall grasses,
into the meadow full of queen anne’s lace,
and goldenrod,
and purple whatevers- those flowers that butterflies seem to love so much-
and then beyond that into the corn stalks…
Gone as quickly as he appeared,
just at the right moment.
Right there,
where there was no reason for me to slow down.
And certainly no reason to stop.

I now know that they are called Wild Bergamot

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