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I decided to get ahead on my stockpile of firewood for the next heating season. I tried to buy it in May, but, for many reasons, it just didn't happen. I kept telling myself, "I'll stay on it and get it done early this year. I'm not waiting until the last minute, like last year…and the year before." I did make several more calls but didn't find the right deal yet.
It was now early October. We'd already had a few fires in the woodstove when I stood looking at my woodpile, taking inventory, if you will. "About a cord and a half, split, stacked, and seasoned." We usually burn about five face cords per year, but we plan to be home more this season, and I wanted at least seven or eight. I shook my head and walked to the house, "I'm just not ready."
I found a man selling split, seasoned hardwood. We talked over the course of ten days or so and finally made arrangements to pick up a load the next Sunday, around noon, right after church. I drove my old dump truck to mass. She's not much of a looker and she's pretty loud, but back in her prime, she was both a beauty and a beast. I would park at the way back of the church parking lot to be less conspicuous.
On my way into town, I was aware the bright red leaves on the maple trees had all fallen. Glowing gold leaves of the birch had blown away in the wind. The spectacular fall colors of the north shore had come and gone. Barren birch looked like vertical white logs with spindly empty branches scattered among the deep green pine trees. I thought how nice it would be to have some of those trees in my stack of firewood at home.
We had already had a decent snowfall, six or seven inches, that melted nearly as fast as it came. The grass on the side of the road had turned brown. Where they could find sparse patches of grass that were still green, jittery deer gathered on the sides of the road, ever vigilant of passing cars.
Further ahead on the shoulder, near the edge of the ditch, I saw the silhouette of something. Was it a deer that would jump in front of me? It was too short. Maybe it was a wolf or a fox. It could also be a big dog. Or, a bear! Yes! It was probably a bear that was late to hibernate.
Always eager for a bear sighting, I will admit to being deceived more than once. When you really want to spot a bear, a trash barrel, mailbox, tree stump, or even a rock can look like a bear from a distance. I slowed down. Whatever it was, I didn't want to hit it should it run into my lane.
As I got closer, the shape became more defined – and odd. It had a short body, a broad flat back, and a long neck. It must have been sitting or lying down because it didn't appear to have legs. When I finally reached it, it was obviously...uh...a chair? Yes, a chair sitting perfectly at the side of the road.
It was a rather handsome chair, even elegant. Gold in color, I felt like the chair had a rich history. Shorter than most, I assumed it was older – people were smaller back then, so furniture was more petite as well. The seat top had rolls and tucked pleats that rounded over the front edge; like a bear claw pastry. The pleats continued, lined up perfectly with those in the gold skirting below. A horizontal band between them, like the cummerbund on a tuxedo, defines the line between a man's shirt and his trousers. The fabric was still taut, even on the crescent-shaped back.
I wondered if it fell from someone's truck or trailer. Except for a couple of abrasions from tumbling on the pavement, it was in perfect condition. It was undoubtedly, too good to be going to the landfill. It was placed neatly, right at the edge of the gravel shoulder and the ditch. Its legs on the line, like athletes in a sports game. I imagined someone stopped to position the chair like this, making it easy for the owner to find when they returned, looking for it.
Perhaps, someone intentionally set it on the road hoping another person would take the chair home. No. It sat just past Olson road, on the opposite side of Highway 61, away from any houses. All alone on the shoulder - like an orphan, I felt sorry for the chair. I had thoughts of adopting it. I would put it in the back of my truck and take it home, "Look, honey! Look what I brought home to put in the three seasons room." Anticipating my wife's reaction, I felt it was best not to take it home, lest I should be placed alongside the highway, sitting in that very chair, holding a cardboard sign: "FREE to a good home. Husband. Comes with his own gold chair."
I was torn. If I didn't take the chair, eventually, the highway people would haul it away. As I slowly drove past, the chair called out to me: "Please, sir, take me with you. I'll be a good chair. I'm not ready for the landfill yet." Suddenly, remembering my mission, I decided to load my firewood and see how full the truck was on the way home. I drove on toward church.
After mass, I called the man. I told him I was going to grab a burger and would be on my way. Then, I noticed I had a low tire – actually, two of them. I stopped to fill the tire with one of those C-store air compressors. Man, they are slow, and the valve stems on a dual wheel are hard to reach. It took almost 40 minutes to bring each of the four back tires up to 80 pounds and add some power steering fluid to my old truck. At 2:00, I called again, "I'm on my way."
"Are you sure this time?" He laughed.
Not knowing how much wood the truck would hold, we loaded two cords. I told him, "I'll run this home, stack it and come back for another load tomorrow if that's okay."
"This is all I have left right now." He told me, "Could've sold this wood ten times over, but you kept saying you were coming, so I've been holding these two cords for you." I appreciated that. I paid the man and started for home. I now had three and a half cords of firewood. I'm still not ready yet.
I drove home, considering how cold it was getting. We were now into the first week of November, and I was about four cords short on firewood for the winter. As I got closer to home, I noticed something in my headlights on the left side of the road. It had a short fat body and a long neck, "Is that a big turkey?" I slowed down in case it ran onto the road ahead of me. I leaned my head closer to the windshield and squinted my eyes. The headlights made it look orange, like a giant pumpkin. Leaning back in my seat, I relaxed and laughed. "It's that chair again." I kept going.
Over the next several days, I drove back and forth along Highway 61 almost daily. Each time the chair was still there, and each time thoughts of taking it home returned – along with visions of being placed on the roadside with it. Finally, one day on my way to get more firewood, I pulled over just past the chair.
I sat in the chair on the shoulder of the road on a beautiful fall morning. My trusty but beat-up old truck sat rumbling to my left. The air was chilly, but the sun warmed the gold fabric. Albeit a little short for me, it was actually quite comfortable. I tried to give a spin with my legs to see if she swiveled. Nope. I looked under the skirt to check out the legs. They were in good condition. I was startled and blushed when someone, unbeknownst to me, spoke up. "Do you need help lifting that chair back up into your truck?"
I straightened the skirt and got up off my knees to greet the stranger. "No, it's not my chair. I just stopped to look at it." I thanked him for stopping. He drove away, and I sat back in the chair.
I pondered the trees, bare of their leaves; they had taken on a new beauty – a look of the winter to come. I watched as cars passed, a few honked. Ravens flew overhead, squawking, talking to each other: "Look at that man down there in the chair. Should we stop and see what he's doing?" The other answered, "We don't have time. There's a fresh deer just past Palisade Head. I want to get there before a crowd shows up."
I slipped into a daydream. One day I am going to build myself a writing cabin out in my woods. Maybe ten by twelve, the place will have a small potbellied wood stove for heat, and my furnishings will all be humble treasures I have found along the way. This chair would be perfect for my cabin.
Lost in the moment, I was startled when some asked, "Do you need help getting that chair in your truck?" I laughed. I didn't even hear the car pull over. Sitting comfortably in the chair, I explained it wasn't mine; I had just stopped to look at it. The lady said, "It's been sitting out here for quite a while. It looks like it's in good shape. You should take it home – you must really like it, to be sitting here on the side of a highway." I smiled and waved, still sitting in the chair, as she pulled away in her car. People sure are friendly along the north shore.
I stood up, giving the chair one last look; I grabbed my iPad from the truck to take a couple of pictures. It was sad; I watched the chair disappear in my rearview mirror as I drove away.
The next morning, driving into town, I didn't see the chair. I made a U-turn driving back to Olson Road. Indeed, I was in the right place. The chair was gone. I wondered if the highway crew took it or if someone else appreciated her beauty as I did and brought it home. I guess I'll never know.
I drove into town, second-guessing myself. Maybe I should have brought the chair home for the little cabin I'm going to build someday. I'm just not ready.
I spotted something ahead on the side of the road. Was it a bear that was late to hibernate? I slowed down in case it should run into my path. My spirits began to rise, "Could it be the chair?" If it was, I was definitely taking it home this time. My smile faded - my hopes dashed. It was just a trash barrel lying on the side of the road at the end of someone's driveway.