I saw him only a moment too late, coming down the path.
I wasn’t expecting anyone to come down this section of the trail. No one ever did. At least I never saw anyone, which is why I was messing around with the pine cones.
OK, I better start at the beginning.
The whole thing started because there was a line of pine cones crossing the trail, and it caught my attention. It was few enough that it could have happened by chance. Did it? I stopped and looked at them. Then, just because I couldn’t help myself, I suppose, I straightened up the line. Then I added a few more until there was a perfect line of pine cones running across the trail. This pleased me probably more than I should admit.
The next day, the line was intact, but the day after that, my line was all messed up. Was it deer? Were humans responsible? Now I was curious. So I straightened out my line and made it a bit longer. It became my little thing. OK, it became one of the many little things I do that I think of as harmless but a less charitable person might view as a latent compulsive disorder or early-onset dementia.
Then, one day, I was caught.
He was wearing a bright blue puff jacket, so I should have seen him coming, but I was busy scavenging up some new cones so my line could be really impressive. Plus, I had to replace some cones because there clearly had been some trail bike traffic, and several of my cones in the center had been squashed flat. I was right in the middle of doing this when … there he was.
“Hi,” I said.
“Hi,” he answered, looking down at my pine cones.
“I, uh, I just like to do this to see if there’s been anyone on the trail,” I said, sounding even more foolish than I imagined I would.
“Well, we’ve all got our little thing,” he said in what was clearly an attempt to explain inexplicable behavior.
And I thought about the many habitual things – such as these pine cones – that I do and have done over the years – daily rituals and quirks that made me unreasonably happy. As far as I could tell, my well-maintained pine cone line was doing no harm, and coming upon it every day filled me with a feeling of satisfaction that was hard to either explain or justify.
Oh well, I thought. I’ll never see him again!
But I did – the very next day.
I had not yet gotten to my line of pine cones, and he had just passed them when we met.
“How’re my pine cones doing?” I asked.
“They look good,” he said. “Maybe a little disturbance along one end.”
He seemed like a nice person. He had a smile on his broad face and a trace of a foreign accent.
“You think I’m a crazy person, don’t you?” I asked.
“Aren’t we all?” he answered.
The way he said it, it didn’t sound like a rhetorical question.
And I suppose he might be right. We’re all struggling – in some way – to make sense of a world that often moves too fast and changes too quickly. This tidy line of pine cones lets me keep track of one tiny spot in the world. In a very small (probably crazy) way, it helps me make sense of things.
He started to leave, then stopped.
“Oh,” he said, and his smile grew broader, “I did add one yesterday.”
“Excellent,” I told him.
• Carrie Classon’s memoir, “Blue Yarn,” will be released next week. Learn more at CarrieClasson.com.