Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Autumn Chill

   Just south of town, the city purchased an old homestead, unoccupied for at least a century.  Once they had removed the crumbling house and barn, the funding was exhausted and neither trails nor comfort facilities were ever built.  As a result, the site is rarely visited and it has become my favored natural getaway.  Using deer and fox trails, I established my personal route through the refuge and, over the years, I cannot recall encountering another human being.  As one who values solitude, that has been the most appealing trait of that secluded plot of land.
   So, on a mild, sunny October morning, I was surprised and a bit dismayed to find a family picnicking in the lower meadow.  Since I had parked my pickup along the only access road, it was a mystery how they reached the site but I assumed they had walked in from a nearby neighborhood. 
   They were an unusual family, indeed.  The father, wearing overalls, a work shirt and a broad-rimmed hat sat on the blanket, sharing lunch with his wife who, despite their hike, was clothed in a full-length sun-dress and a straw bonnet.  Two young boys, perhaps aged five and seven, chased one another across the meadow, giggling and calling to their parents.  Like their father, the boys wore overalls and buttoned shirts and both were barefoot.  Despite my friendly wave, they ignored my presence.
   Moving on, I climbed to a wooded ridge above Jake’s Creek and ate my own lunch atop a rocky overlook.  A red-tailed hawk circled lazily overhead while a mixed flock of juncos and finches foraged in the thickets just below my perch.  Other than the distant calls of blue jays and crows, all was silent and I nearly dozed off as I lounged in the sun.  Since my wife was out of town and I had no personal commitments that day, I was in no hurry to leave my little piece of heaven.
   Nevertheless, I decided to depart a bit early and introduce myself to the family who now shared my beloved refuge.  Besides, I imagined they might want a ride back to their home, especially considering the nature of their dress and footwear.  But, as I approached the meadow, I found that they had already left and was angered to see that they had littered the pristine site.  As I walked over to pick up the debris, cursing their selfish behavior, it became evident that the white plates and cups were, in fact, stones, not paper.
   To my surprise, they were weathered headstones.  One was for “John Marshall, beloved husband and father,” who was born in 1810 and died in 1848.  The other was for his wife, Sarah Marshall, 1813-1848.  A chill ran down my spine as I pushed aside the tall grass to find two smaller markers.  One was for Jacob Marshall and the other for Thomas Marshall.  The dates had long since eroded from the stones.