(photography by Ellie Lane)
Jess followed the path through tracts of sugar maple and beech, taking note of the changing color of the leaves and all the places where her family members had died. According to Aunt Eddie, the trail was made more then 200 years ago by loggers who had settled in Somerset. Jess has walked this path since she was a toddler, most always with Aunt Eddie; Jess’s tiny fingers within her strong grasp as she pointed out grim landmarks and recounted the sad little anecdotes that comprised the Babcock family history.
A bend in the trail where Grandpa Orville flipped the tractor, although no one could ever figure out how he managed it on such flat ground.
The log where they discovered Aunt Helen sitting so peacefully. At first they had thought she was praying but she had simply frozen to death.
The grove of hemlock where Cousin Phineas was found, next to an empty bottle of moonshine.
The branch from which dear sweet John, Aunt Eddie’s son, had hung himself. He was only fourteen.
And of course, the boulder on which Jess’s mother had struck her head after falling off her horse.
“As a family, the Babcocks have never been lucky,” Aunt Eddie would say.
No one knew why so many of her family had passed in these woods. Perhaps it was a weakness of spirit or atonement for some forgotten crime of her ancestors, but to Jess, this path to the reservoir had always been a source of comfort. Jess had always attributed it to the innate beauty of the woods and the serenity of the lake, but lately she wondered whether it wasn’t simply the growing concentration of Babcock flesh and blood that fed the soil.
Jess shivered as she reached a small clearing on the bank of the reservoir. It was getting colder. The posy of Red Clover she had picked was already starting to wilt. Still, she was lucky to find some blooming so late in the season. Jess knelt in the tall grass, placing the bouquet on the mound of soil beneath which she had buried Aunt Eddie. She died in her sleep three days earlier—one of the few Babcocks who had managed to perish beyond these woods. It was Jess who had brought her here. Eddie had always loved the lake. It was here that she had taught Jess how to fish and which stones were best for skipping.
To Jess, this seemed a good a place as any to lay Aunt Eddie to rest and to put an end to the sad story of the Babcock family. She began to undress. It was quiet and the air was so still that Jess could see her reflection on the surface of the water. She placed her clothes in a neat pile on the shore, and then slowly walked into the icy water of the reservoir.
© 2014 gibson grand
Special thanks to the talented Ellie Lane, who continues to send me photographs that inspire me.