And in this same country, a man lived alone on a hill overlooking the main street of a small town.
He could be seen sitting at the front of his house, every day. Sometimes reading, sometimes staring expectantly at the bird feeders he had hung hopefully from nearly every low branch throughout his front yard. But more often simply gazing openly, his eyes focused on something far off in the distance or else on something that was not actually a thing that could be seen. Every day.
On this day we’re speaking of, the man started the long walk from his hilltop home to the mailbox at the end of his driveway. He was enjoying the walk, a quarter mile or so, because the air was pleasant and the full sun felt good on his skin. The late spring fragrance of blossoms filled the air, the freshly cut grass of the lawn. Rains from late the previous week added a good damp heft to the breeze but made the rutted edges of the driveway muddy. He stayed to the center, where it was clear and uncomplicated. But then, without signaling any reason, the man changed direction to walk off the driveway of loose stone, over to where a group of bird feeders hung. There were four of them bunched on one long and jagged limb. The branch was strong and there were several woody shoots jutting out, sharp in the air, and the man knew that next summer, or maybe the one after that, he could hang a feeder there.
He came close to the largest of the feeders hanging, just a box made with rough planks, stuck his finger into the loose seed pit and swirled it around. The man didn’t speak, and there was no one there to hear even if he did. But he was wondering something. Though the man had placed many bird feeders, none of them seemed to attract birds. Certainly, a few birds could be seen flitting among the tops of trees near the man’s house, but the seed in the feeders remained undisturbed, and if he were watching for visiting birds, during his long vigils on the porch, he was always disappointed.
The man walked through the grass back to his long driveway and then continued his previous trek toward the mailbox. He noticed something white, like paper, and folded into some complicated shape, mixed among the gravel at his feet. He bent down to examine it more closely. It was tinged with dirt, mud that dried after those recent rains, and it was small—small enough to fit in the palm of his hand. He didn’t pick it up, though, and simply looked at it as closely as he could.
He used his finger to move away a few smaller rocks that were covering it. Indeed it was paper, and folded it was—into the shape of a bird, but smashed a bit, crushed down, as if it had been compressed between whatever two hands had formed it.
This part is several weeks later. The man comes to his front door to look outside—to check his bird feeders, or in preparation for a walk, maybe—and he see two young boys sitting on the grass underneath the biggest tree in his front yard, a tree from which hangs maybe a dozen bird feeders. Worried that their human presence, their jittery activity, might prevent any curious birds from getting close, he yells to them to get away, to leave the yard.
The children both looked at him and then run off toward the main street of the little town. At this point in our story, the man did not remember finding the paper bird in his driveway those weeks earlier. If he had remembered, he would have been certain it was those children who had made it and left it there. He would have been wrong. But this wrong thought would have allowed him to dismiss all of it, the bird and the boys linking up logically, and return to his life undisturbed.
Again time passes. The man follows his normal routines, and already summer is giving way to autumn. A chill in the air signals that it will soon be time to take the feeders down, to store them away for a season.
The man finds he is able to remember less and less of who he is, of what brought him to this house on the hill. Inside the house, there are three bedrooms—one is used by the man and is filled with the things any bedroom might be filled with. There is a bed, a low shelf overflowing with books, a small table with a lamp.
We won’t concern ourselves with the other two bedrooms; for the purposes of this narrative, they don’t exist.
The man seems to content himself with his own small room and the common areas of the house—kitchen, a small dining room, a living room. Sometimes he remembers moving into this house on the hill, a snowy day years ago. He remembers more about that time, but what he remembers wouldn’t matter to us. It’s not part of this story. And, after all, it is his life and so often the details of another person’s life don’t really matter to anyone else.
But memories return to him, and many things become clear. In fact, this is the point in the story when he realizes that the children he shooed away from his yard were probably the makers of the folded bird he left undisturbed in the driveway. He is sure of it. He thinks, as you do now, that maybe if he went outside now he could find it. The paper bird still marooned among the loose stone.
But it’s too late, for so much time has passed. All of this has taken him months to realize and now the driveway is buried in heavy drifts. Just like that, it’s winter. There’s no way to recover what he chose to leave behind.
That is one end to the story.
But after a few more days, the specter of the folded bird remains in the man’s thoughts. He invests the image with more weight than it should have to bear. It becomes a symbol for him, of all he must fix in his life—the way he hopes to reconcile his past with a desire to move forward. Remember, this man has lived a long time alone. When a man has lived a long time alone, he becomes susceptible to imaging rules, or an arc, for life where none exists.
So one night he takes a piece of paper—clean and white like the snow covering his driveway—and he folds it into the shape of a bird. It takes him several tries and he brings all of his energy to the maddening task. For him, it is important. We can’t know why—not entirely—can’t know exactly what these actions mean to him.
A man folds a paper bird. When he’s done, even though it is riddled with unnecessary creases, it looks as if, in the right wind, it could fly.
So here is another ending to the story. Certainly, there are others.
The next morning he takes the paper bird with him as he walks outside. He trudges through the dusty pile of snow, veers off the driveway and walks out into the yard. Then, he drops the bird into the snow. It cuts past the fine particles on top, disappears completely.