The Basket

▲ Henri-Charles Guérard, 1874

Two travelers walk hand in hand along a dusty, pitted and rocky road that stretches into the distance before and behind them, without beginning or end. Short hills roll away to either side, carpeted with dry grass and furnished with stunted trees. An empty blue sky stretches to the shimmering horizon. The buzzards circling high above are the only sign of life; there are no animals on the ground, nor any in the trees.

The travelers exchanged gifts at the beginning of the journey, each giving the other a handmade wicker basket. The baskets are now old and tattered, but still in constant use, fastened like backpacks. When they reach a stone that blocks the path, one of the travelers lifts it from the road, wipes the dust from it, and drops it into the other’s basket. On a good day there are only a few small rocks, but sometimes there are many heavy boulders. The hard, unforgiving, mineral weight of the baskets makes them difficult to lift and harder to carry, but the travelers march on, walking unevenly and occasionally staggering under their burden.

Fissures and gaps have developed in the battered baskets, through which the stones slowly escape. New stones placed in the baskets are felt as keenly as fresh bruises; old stones slip away quietly, without notice. It is only these holes that prevent the baskets from overflowing, the straps from breaking, the travelers from collapsing. Nevertheless, they walk on, collecting more stones as they go, each trusting the other not to make the load too heavy.

This entry is part of my journal, published October 28, 2002, in New York.