On a wing and a prayer

I’m tired. I woke up earlier than usual with stranger than usual phrases dancing on the tip of my mind’s tongue: still life with homunculus. The automata of experience. Three feathers for the last emir. There was also one that tasted deliciously ordinary, but melted before I could get downstairs and commit it to writing.


Crescent moon long set, starlight’s enough to make the mist visible in the corner of the field. On the other side of the driveway, a round, white spot the size of a small pumpkin. It isn’t moving. I carry my empty cup into the kitchen, fetch a flashlight, train it on the spot: it’s a balloon. Maybe one of the ones left over from when my niece was here last week, blown down from my parent’s house. I could make something wistful out of all this, I know. But one thing about living on a mountain is that the wind has a way of dropping off balloons let loose many miles away. “Happy anniversary,” they say, or “Congratulations on your retirement.” You know how it works, I’m sure: they rise only so high, the wind takes them a ways, then when enough helium leaks out they sink to the ground. A bit like prayer flags, a bit like roadside trash.


I wonder where the intrepid bicyclists spent the night. I’m talking about a group of twelve who left Pittsburgh on Friday, bound for New York City to protest at the Republican National Convention. The point of going there by bike is to draw attention to our gasoline addiction, apparently. But J., our contact with the group, admitted that she was mainly just curious to see if she could do it.

There weren’t any convenient state parks or state forests to camp in on the second night of their sojourn, so we offered use of the (ahem!) Plummer’s Hollow Private Nature Reserve. But they badly underestimated the distance and the extent to which Central Pennsylvania topography would interfere with cell phone reception. Many became separated from the group and got lost. In the end, only the four hardiest bicyclists made it this far, straggling in well after dark. The other eight ended up scattered all along the Allegheny Front.

By 9:00 a.m. yesterday, only one was still unaccounted for, and they arranged to reunite at the bottom of the hollow before continuing east. “Give ’em hell in New York, if you get there,” I said rather thoughtlessly as I waved goodbye from the porch. “Hey, we’ll make it!” the leader shouted, dismounting and lifting his bike over the first of the 45 grating-topped culverts that keep the Plummer’s Hollow Road from washing into the Little Juniata.

I hope the thick fog that had been blanketing the valleys at 7:00 when I walked up to the top of the ridge had burnt off a bit by the time they got down there. Good luck, y’all. Keep your powder dry.


The balloon turned out to be trailing a long, silver ribbon, so it wasn’t one of ours. I wonder how far it traveled to get here, and what might have been the occasion of its escape – or release? It’s completely blank. Supply your own message.

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