The coffee was a mistake. They didn’t have half-caf, but I felt like I should at least get some credit for having asked. Nevertheless, I was fully wired and in no way able to cope with what I found when I finally arrived in Innswale. At first I thought I had gone the wrong way, that it was some kind of mistake.
A metal gate stretched across the road, bearing the sign “no motorized vehicles beyond this point.” Clearly, I had wandered onto the access road for a park, or private property. But no, another sign stood to the side of the road, next to the metal gate. A squat obelisk built of stones proudly bore a large copper sign that said “Welcome to Innswale.”
I stared from one sign to the other. They couldn’t both be correct, could they? It didn’t seem possible, and yet they had both clearly been there for a long time, and couldn’t have been placed by accident.
A dirt road broke off to the right, and I wondered if maybe there was some way around this odd edict. But no, as my car crawled closer, I saw an array of parked cars through the thick tree canopy and underbrush. Some, judging by the quantity of dirt and forest debris collected on them, had evidently been there for a long time.
I was stuck. On the one hand, I had driven many miles to be here, and there were people expecting me. On the other, parking my car and continuing on foot was too bizarre to be the correct response. The sound of a horse-drawn buggy clip-clopping down the road interrupted my musing, though the quandary wasn’t resolved until I saw Echart lean out of the buggy’s cab and waved at me.
I waved back, and went to park my car, trying to normalize the situation in my mind. Innswale is not an Amish or Mennonite town, or anything like that. But I had heard that quite a few people there preferred a low-tech lifestyle. Had this segment of the population managed to make bylaws enforcing their preferences?
Echart hadn’t mentioned anything, but then I didn’t hear from him that often. Though one would think he’d have mentioned it after I said I would come visit.
After I parked, I lugged my suitcases towards the metal gate separating Innswale from the rest of the world. Echart greeted me warmly and threw my bags in the back of the buggy. He was a tall beanpole of a man with a wizened face, and a strength that belied his years. The sparse mop of grey on his head was always slightly disheveled, and the white stubble on his chin made it look like he’d dipped the lower half of his face in sugar.
“Is this a new bylaw? This no cars thing,” I said.
“Oh no,” he said. “We do this every year. Sort of a tradition.”
“How long does it last?”
“It’ll last the month.”
“Is there something special about this month?”
“Yes.” A conspiratorial grin crossed his face. “Oh yes. But we’ll get to that later.”
We exchanged small talked as the buggy rattled into town. He asked how the drive had been. Long, but not bad. I asked what the horse’s name was. Bitterberry. Which I thought was odd, but didn’t say so. Aren’t bitter berries usually poisonous?
We drew to a stop at maybe the second drive way we’d come to. I wondered if we’d arrived already.
“Hold on,” Echart said. “I won’t be a minute.”
As he walked up the drive I noticed a rabbit in a small cage, just beside the mailbox. Echart retreived the cage, and put it in the back of the buggy on top of my bags.
“What’s that about?” I asked.
“Some of the townspeople like to keep up the old ways,” he said.
I waited for him to elaborate, but he didn’t.
We picked up three more rabbits before the end.
“So, what happens to the rabbits?” I asked.
“The same thing that happens to all of us,” he said cheerfully.
Now unsettled on many levels, I held my hands in my lap and fiddled with my wedding ring. The coffee was most definitely a mistake. I had to pee so bad. I hoped indoor plumbing wasn’t verboten this month as well as cars.