Letter to a Stranger

The Nehalem River (Photo: Justin Wedes)


Dear Stranger,


There’s a light rain in the river bay today. I can see it out the window of my new home perched on the hill. You sit on the road below in your Chevy truck, engine humming with the babbling creek. Foggy mountains frame the distance. Frogs perch in their moss beds.


I haven’t met you yet, but I’m bound to in this small town. Your fate will wrap up with mine like an ivy vine, at least for a short time. At least while we both inhabit these mountains. So I suppose I’ll introduce myself.


Last week I rode in from Brooklyn, New York. My pants are dirty with the dust kicked up by buses and trains from a dozen towns stretched across this great country. My mind is still racing and I’m restless. I’ve been wound up by years of city life and now I’m unraveling. Give me a few days, though, and I’ll settle right in. Deep down I’m a country boy I reckon.


You should know that I’m trouble. Not like a corner-store criminal, but more like a rabble-rouser. A non-conformist. A fighter. I’m passionate and principled. I’m an arguer. A lover, too.


On the way here, I met a man named Josh from Michigan. He was a mighty boxer until a jab to the head landed him in the hospital for brain surgery and four weeks in a comma. The doctor thought he might not ever wake up, but he did. He remembered almost everything, and has three kids now. I told him my biggest fear was to lose my memory, and he told me it isn’t that bad, when you know which parts you’ve lost and which you’ve still got. I told him just thinking about that just gave me a numb thud deep inside my head. I guess I’m cerebrally sensitive.


I met a queer writer named Laurel who writes poems and stories. She was thinking about moving from Oregon to Brooklyn and had taken the trip east by train. When I met her she was on her way back home but thinking of swapping coasts in just the opposite fashion as me. It occurred to me she might be my mirror image, moving at 180° angles to my own life. Maybe there are many of us moving in these orbits, entangled in a quantum dance no matter how distant from each other, unbeknownst to any of us.


You, stranger, might also become entangled with me. Or perhaps we have already crossed paths before. Folks don’t remember most of the people they encounter in life, right? The ones they never speak to or do business with or fall deep in love with. Maybe I ran past you in Central Park last year? Or perhaps your email address is in my inbox? Could it be we share a distant cousin? They say humanity’s most recent common ancestor – the great predecessor we living humans can all trace our converging lineages back to – dates back to 209,000 years ago. Wooly mammoths roamed these parts only 15,000 years ago, so you and I go way back. It’ll be nice to re-meet you.


Have I come on too strong? Let me slow down and listen to you for a minute. Your story is just as important as mine; just as captivating I’m sure. Tell me about it.


The fog is starting to withdraw and I can see the farmlands across the river. The rain halts for a moment, and it is eerily silent up here on my hill. A dog barks in the distance. Birds chirp in the trees. The gears of my mind start to slow down and I can finally begin to relax. I meditate on the sheer beauty of this temperate rainforest. In this space I am a stranger, too. I’m a visitor to the door of mother Earth, beckoning to be let in and to calm my human temper to match the irresistible tranquility of the natural world. Grant me serenity, please.


I am drawn out of my meditation by the muted thump of your Chevy truck door closing. The engine lets out a rough cough and then that same low hum. You’re pulling away and driving into the distance, across the bridge over the river and out of sight.


A rooster sings out in the distance.


I suppose I’ll see you again soon, but for now please accept this letter from one stranger to another.


Until we meet again.