Crossing Paths

January 21, 2008

It was Saturday. Like most folks who commute to a job some distance away, it was a chance to putter around with all sorts of things I can’t get to during the week, like gardening, cleaning out the shed in the back of the garage, which I call “The Barn,” because it’s easier than saying “the shed in the back of the garage,” working in the workshop, stuff like that.

One of the errands this weekend was to load up a bunch of recyclable stuff into the truck and take it all over to the recycling center, operated by the local church-run rescue mission for homeless men.

I wore my usual weekend work duds; torn camouflage jersey, stocking cap, not-very-clean denim bib overalls that still smelled smoky from an earlier barn-cleaning/trash burning operation, and worn-out work boots.

As usual, there were several mission residents helping folks sort and toss their recyclables. Typically, their appearance runs a gamut of sorts, but most look like they got a boot caught in Life’s stirrup and got dragged a ways.

A couple of the guys were helping a fellow in a burgundy SUV unload some bags of this and that.

I got everything, glass, plastic, cardboard, clothing, out of the truck and into the bins by myself.

As I was walking back toward the truck, the driver of the SUV gave me what I thought was a very brotherly look and said, with warmth, “Thank you.” Then he got into his SUV and trundled off.

I stood there, puzzled. Why in the world was he thanking ME?

 Then, I looked down at my comfortable and very functional wardrobe, and it hit me. He thought I was one of the residents.

We got a pretty good laugh out of that, for awhile.

Then I got to thinking of all the paths I took that led me to where I am now, and all the paths those other guys took that led them to where they are now. I thought about how often those paths crossed and tangled, and how I ended up on a lucky path a time or two, sometimes more out of luck than by intent.

 I also remembered stealing food, many years ago, so my wife could eat.

Long ago, a friend and teacher said there were no such things as luck or accidents. But she was an academic and always had been, and I suspect had not mis-stepped often in her life. I think those who believe they know where the road they’re on leads are fooling themselves, or praying out loud, or whistling their way past the graveyard.

So far, we don’t have GPS units for fate.

Probably in about a month, I’ll be back with another load for the Mission. I’ll haul the bags to the bins, and thank the guys who offer to help. And maybe actually help unload somebody else.

After all, one never knows where the path will lead someday, and it might be there.

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© 2007 Marsh Creek Media,

Gettysburg, Pa.

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Bee in Winter

January 7, 2008

There I was, not even a full week into the New Year, staring at a honeybee.

Unusually warm weather for south-central Pennsylvania had brought her out to bump and buzz, bewildered, looking for blooms that are still months away.

I wonder where her hive is, though I doubt I’d spot it even if it were nearby. But bees typically forage up to two miles from their hives if food is plentiful, and up to six if it is not.

It is just barely warm enough, at 55, for her to be out.

Her abdomen pumps in and out like an accordion as she breathes. She’s breathing so hard I can almost imagine I hear her puffing as she rests there on the table by the creek, her wings tattered lace. I expect she is near the end of her short life.

There is no pollen held between her back legs. There is no pollen to be had. I prop my head on my hand and watch as she catches her breath and try not to be overwhelmed by the futility of the whole exercise. Poor little clockwork, spending herself for nothing. I doubt she will see the spring. It is possible she could live her entire life without ever seeing a flower.

I take note of her stinger, poised over the glass surface of the table. A marvel that such a small thing, that sting, can bring a much larger creature – me, for instance – to such singular attention. She won’t use it, the experts say, unless provoked or threatened. I intend to do neither, and so am not very worried. But then, only the female bees have stingers, and that’s all I will say about that.

Suddenly, her accordion still playing a polka, she lifts off from the table, angles sharply up to the roofline, then weaves her way through the tangle of winter-bare branches, steadily in search of something bright and sweet and life-renewing, something that is not there and she will not live to see.

I go back to my chores, trying to figure out the sense of it, try to see some purpose or design in the whole dance. In that way, I suppose, I am at that moment very much like the bee.