The ground was still soft from yesterday’s rainfall. The knees of John’s overalls were comfortably soaked, and another layer of soil slowly seeped into the fabric. He plunged a strong bundle of stiff fingers into the dirt then slowly twisted and lifted, leaving a perfectly sized, perfectly deep little hole. The newly open mouth was begging to be fed. John snagged a tiny seed from the sack on his hip and flipped it in. With a light slide of his hand the mouth was closed again.
This was John’s happy place. He could move faster, but the joy was in the process, not the product. He might never witness that. Routine seemed to drive a lot of people crazy. John thought they were crazy. He adored the simplicity of his journey, roaming the countryside with just a sack of potential on his hip and a small bindle on his shoulder.
John picked his head up to look out at the field of new mini-mounds illuminated by the setting sun. Hundreds of little smiles filled with little seeds. He got great joy from each one, but seeing hundreds of completed projects in a single day was the greatest satisfaction he got from what others at first called “small ambition.” He laid back onto the ground behind him, sinking in just slightly to finish the day a little closer to his seeds. Small, large, crazy, sane, John had long ago let these words go.
It came from the distance. Ugh. John can’t that let go. They won’t let him. That stupid childish name. He stayed on the ground and closed his eyes.
“Hey!” John whipped his eyes open to find a young man staring down at him shouting, “Johnny!”
John sat up to engage. “Yes? Can I help you?”
“I heard you were coming to town. The great Johnny Appleseed.”
John let out a heavy sigh and scanned his verbal captor. This young man was covered in more dirt than John, who was currently lying in dirt. Mud and muck had seeped into this man’s skin and hair. His shirt’s color had inverted, brown with spots of white racing towards extinction. Even for someone who lived on the road John could feel this man’s odor attacking him.
“Can I help you?”
“I just wanted to come sees you. You got the overalls and…” he looked down at John’s hip, “the seed bag! Can I have one?”
“Appleseed!” He widened his eyes and smiled with his lip lightly quivering.
John stood up shaking his head. If this man was going to act like a child, John would treat him accordingly. He broke out the loud whisper he used with his youngest fans. “Ok! But you have to make me a promise…”
“I’ll do it!”
“You have to promise me you’ll plant it yourself and watch the tree grow, just like you!”
“Yup I will!” This young man was giddy and beaming, his open hand extended. John reached down and placed a seed in the inviting palm.
The young man instantly closed his fist and started running towards town. “Johnny Appleseed! I got me a seed from Johnny!”
As the man disappeared into the distance John knew his peace had come to an end. Whenever he was found by a gossip he was sure to be pounced on by reporters and children. He preferred the solitude afforded by open fields.
John picked up his bindle, flipped it onto his shoulder, and began moving down the road to wherever he wanted. He didn’t want to see people now. He was playing the long game. His work would make him a time traveler. That stupid name though, that will surely be forgotten. John Chapman. That’s how he’ll be remembered.
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