Flagstaff Road is still there, and when I come across it, I’m always surprised. Surprised, because unlike other tangible objects that have a purpose, this one doesn’t, at least not anymore.

I might be out there in these dense Maine woods foraging for mushrooms, or looking for a jack-in-the-pulpit or lady’s-slipper to photograph, or cutting across to a special part of a trout stream. I will become lost in thought about what brought me out here where nobody goes, and then, my feet know it first. They feel it, hard and smooth underneath; footing without brambles impeding their progress and without suction from the mud. I’ve pushed along, sometimes sideways through the thick alders, and then, seemingly without warning, I’m standing in a road.

First, I look down for confirmation and see the gray-black pavement. It’s interrupted with cracks and fissures and fist-sized voids, but it’s clearly what was intended, what was used, one time, as a road.

I look left and right, but don’t see where it goes in either direction; it just leads away from me to the right, and away from me to the left. Alders and scrub keep its destination secret after about the length of a fly rod. Sometimes I guess where each way leads, uphill to the village and downhill to the water, maybe.

There’s nothing anyone can use it for, this road, and there’s no purpose in my remaining, but I seldom move on all that readily. I find myself contemplating how it all got this way. That’s all the road does anymore – it gets people contemplating.

Another time I was there, the sun was burning overhead, and I found myself in a more spacious clearing than usual. I consulted my compass and turned in the direction of Flagstaff Lake and – once – the villages of Flagstaff and Dead River. I thought of the grandparents of people I knew. So many had walked or driven this road in the direction I was facing, only they were returning home, home to a place that defined them, that they wore like skin, close and seamless. Going where everything was in the perfect place; the house across the street was the definition of a house across the street; the general store was where a general store needed to be; Schoolhouse Hill was where anybody would put a school.

The people there were made for the town, and the town was made for them. The water tasted good; the weather felt good, and Bigelow Mountain hung above the horizon like an heirloom tapestry. Neighbors there had the feel of family, without all that need for patience.

I faced the other way and thought some more. What had it been like for each of them, that very last time they drove in this direction, leaving their hometown forever? What were they thinking, all those families? The Wings, Herricks, Skalings and Coveys, lots of them were still around, had been ever since, but they’d never talked.

I would … at least I think I would.

 

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