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August andAs I reach the bottom of the dead-end street I spot five deer down the abandoned road that runs along the creek. Two are standing right in the middle; the other three are nearly hidden in the brush between the road and the water. It’s snowing softly, white against the gray trees. The deer look at me as though I surprised them doing something forbidden, like guilty teenagers caught with cigarettes. They stand still as statues, peering over their shoulders at me, big ears trained in my direction. I stand equally still, Counting Crows loud in my ear buds. I wonder about how this seems from the deer perspective. No doubt they are assessing the potential threat of this dark figure in the distance. With those finely tuned ears they might hear the snow falling. I wonder if they can even hear the tinny traces of “Mr. Jones” that escape from my ears.

All six of us, deer and human, remain frozen until I decide to break up the tableau with a sudden movement. I jump and the deer ears twitch. Slowly the animals begin to move towards the woods opposite the creek. They gracefully bound away into the undergrowth and disappear.  I turn around and trudge back up the hill, “Mr. Jones” still playing.

Counting Crows are a new addition to my iPod. I have some mixed feelings about the band—it has a whiff of hacky sack about it and there’s a bit too much self-absorption in the lyrics. But I had been streaming WNRN at work the other day and when the station played “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby” I realized that I really liked that song. I checked my library’s website and reserved a couple of the band’s CDs, This Desert Life and August and Everything After.

Today I’m playing the latter album, the band’s debut, from way back in 1993. Strangely enough, even though I’m walking through snow and cold on a gray winter morning the music brings me back to a hot summer afternoon in Washington, D.C.

It was nearly 21 years ago. Our daughter was still a baby. A co-worker of my wife’s had invited us to a party at her group house outside Adams Morgan and we brought the baby along. She was in her carrier, which we stashed on the couch in the living room. We were still young then—in our early 30s—but the party goers were younger still, drinking beers out in the backyard as the hot afternoon eased into the slightly cooler evening. Inside, the stereo was playing August and Everything After. The melancholy song “Sullivan Street” will always trigger images of that party, the hot afternoon, salsa and chips on the table, young people with cold beers outside in the backyard. As the music played, some of the girls cooed over the baby while my wife and I felt pleased that this child-rearing thing had made such little impact on our lifestyle. We could still go to parties! Heck, within days of Katherine’s birth (she was Katherine then, Katie now) we had taken her to the local Pizzeria Uno, where we sat at the bar, baby carrier at our feet, and thought, “Yeah. We can do this.” We even took her to a movie—The Brothers McMullen—and she slept quietly through the entire show.

But our lives had changed—lives are always changing. Before long we had moved from the city to the suburbs and had another baby, a boy this time. Then, seemingly in the blink of an eye, the mailman was bringing us invitations from the AARP. The baby we lugged to the party in her carrier just turned 21. Her brother is a college freshman. As the late Sandy Denny once asked, “Who knows where the time goes?” I sure as hell don’t.

But here it is, almost 21 years, later and I’m listening to Counting Crows as I head home through my cold suburban neighborhood. On the way I spy some footprints in the thin scrim of snow on the sidewalk. I decide to try some Sherlockian reasoning. There are no accompanying dog tracks, so this wasn’t a dog walker. There are wide spaces between each print—about half again as long as my stride—so I figure this was someone out for a morning run. The space between prints narrows as they  approach the icy gap through a corner snowdrift. The runner must have slowed to pass through the gap. Other than that—nothing. No hints of childhood trauma or military experience or even clues about the runner’s identity.  “You see, but you do not observe,” my inner Sherlock admonishes me.

As I near my house I come across another set of footprints, going in the opposite direction from me. I can deduce a lot about the person who made these prints. They’re mine, from the start of my walk. They go one way; I follow them in reverse towards home, each step taking me back in time.



February 2014
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