When I was 11 years old we moved from a small town to the fresh suburbs of a larger city, our clutch of houses nesting amid residual scraps of farmland. One of those scraps was still being used to pasture a herd of dairy cows owned and managed by a Catholic convent. (This being the early 1960s, when convents were still a going concern).
I often roamed alone in the wild grasses of that pasture, out of sight of home and civilization, soaking in the essence of the prairie seasons. Toward the center of that semi-wild space, on a rise, a huge cottonwood spread its branches. A few large stones and the ghost of foundation suggested a long-gone barn or other structure.
A farm wagon rested beneath that cottonwood. An everyday working wagon, metal wheels and wooden frame, likely once used to haul hay out to the cattle. Saplings, young trees really, had wormed themselves around it, some through the wheels. Clearly the wagon hadn’t been moved in a long time. It seemed sound, though, the wood being solid and the wheels and hardware, while rusty, seemed strong underneath.
All suggesting that the wagon had been placed or left there, rather than having been abandoned after breaking down. Perhaps encroaching civilization had so reduced the acreage that there was no need for a wagon any more; perhaps mechanization had made it superfluous. Or, as seemed more likely to me, the wagon had been left there on what had been intended as a temporary basis. Something unexpected had intervened and the days turned to months, to seasons, to years, time piling up around the wagon until it slipped from awareness, left to itself and to nature, until any idea of moving it again, should such idea have risen up, would have been abandoned as involving more effort than gain.
I felt an immediate kind of sorrow for it, in the way adolescents do, left alone out there for no fault of its own.
Many years later I feel a touch of that sorrow when I think of the wagon, but that feeling tends to get buried beneath a sheen of symbolism. I see it as manifestation of the idea of unexpected endings. In my heart I know someone meant to come back for that wagon, but never, ever, did. That the wagon had done well throughout its working life but that life had been ended without warning, that it was unintentionally left behind, waiting until it became, not a wagon abandoned, but an abandoned wagon, finally defined by its uselessness and archaic nature. What had mattered and moved had become a symbol of sad stasis.
That wagon comes to mind whenever I think about my writing, or, as has been the case more recently, my lack of writing. I find myself wondering at what point those story lines I keep meaning to pick up on, those half-done drafts and half-baked ideas, will settle into absence. Or, maybe more precisely and more disconcertingly, whether and when I will reach the point at which the idea of writing becomes just that, a symbol buried beneath thoughts and dreams and hazy memories. The soft tapping of saplings in the wind becoming the final ticks of time.
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