May 16, 2013
Name: Ross Magee
Stationed in: Afghanistan
It was fall when I left.
In my last weeks at home we slept with the windows open some nights; the sound of crickets and the cool night air whispered us into an easy sleep. Days grew shorter, it rained and the leaves along the parkway began to rust. In the mornings we walked along the river, where the woods smelled of rotting leaves and moist soil. On the way home, we would stop at the secret persimmon tree to pick the mottled fruit off the ground while the old dog rested. When the morning sun melted the frost away, the persimmons would fall to the ground, their tart skins splitting on impact. The squishy, pale yellow flesh and sweet custard taste was unmistakably a sign of autumn; each piece of fruit was loaded with the bitterness of my pending departure and the sweetness of fall at home.
We drove west. The city gave way to suburbs and the road quietly slipped into fields and rolling hills that carried the trees up to meet the blue sky and the cotton-white clouds in the distance. We left the highway and crossed a creek, then turned up a long-winding gravel drive lined with old stacked stone outbuildings. The truck came to rest under a row of trees and, when the back hatch opened, the dog stuck his head out and gazed into the distance. He lifted his nose slightly and then in one, long, stuttering pull filled his lungs with the autumn air. This was all new.
The air was thick with the scent of fermentation. We walked up a muddy road and then disappeared into the orchard, picking apples and slowly filling our bags as we savoured the fading afternoon. The dog rested in the shade and rolled in the fermenting apples with his tongue lolling to one side, like a wolf wallowing in a caribou carcass. Moving through the orchard, we paused when we came to a road and then crossed it quickly like fugitives on the run. We wanted to be lost and alone.
We wandered through the orchards with no intention of ending up anywhere, liberated — at least temporarily — from the constraints of a path. All roads, even the two-lane dirt tracks that crisscrossed the orchard, have a destination.
For us, all roads led to Afghanistan.