A dirt road is a canvas. In ways that concrete and gravel and macadam never can, it records those who travel its course. It paints a picture and tells a story with each footprint.
When Owen and I go walking, we generally always encounter the tracks of some animal or another — the wide scoot of a turtle edged in the lacy drag of its flippers, the tiny fleur-de-lis of wild turkeys. During dry spells I can look closely in the clay at the top of the hill and make out the heart of a deer’s hoof. After a soaking rain, that same hoof leaves a crevice as distinct and deep as a cookie cutter. Snakes leaves smooth ribbons from one ditch to the other. The pawprints of raccoons make it look as though they walk on tiptoe.
The delicate embroidery stitched by the talons of mockingbirds and killdeer and crows are indistinguishable to me, but I am still very careful not to step directly on the beauty they have created without even knowing it.
The other day, out walking with no business doing it in 90-plus-degree heat, I stopped to look at some bird tracks, particularly small and close together, as though something was hurrying her along. As I stared and Owen hurried over to sniff at whatever it was that had taken my attention from him, my racing brain articulated a single word: evidence.
Since I retired from practicing law, I haven’t thought much about evidence. I haven’t had a need to consider Title 24 of the Georgia Code and things like admissibility and relevance. One never stops being an attorney, though, never stops analyzing things and people from the standpoint of believability. Thus, I stood in the middle of the road and, like a juror, came to the conclusion, without ever actually seeing the bird, that a bird had walked across the road sometime in the past.
It’s been a couple of weeks since the encounter and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. This is the conclusion to which I’ve come: Regardless of my deliberate intentions to pay attention, to notice, to observe, I am an eye-witness to very little. Most of what I know has been deduced, reasoned, concluded only after an examination of the evidence.
I wake to find puddles in the yard and I say, “It rained last night.” I see smoke in the distance and I think, “Something is on fire.” Owen suddenly goes dashing off into the woods and I call out, without having seen a squirrel, “Stop chasing that squirrel!”
There is another element, though. In the pages and pages of the King James Bible imprinted on my neural pathways is the Book of Hebrews’ definition of faith: “the evidence of things not seen.” The word faith is nowhere to be found in Title 24, but it might as well be because that’s exactly what is required to deduce, to reason, to conclude that puddles come from rain, that smoke comes from fire, that dogs — and people — chase things they will never catch.
Most days I see only evidence of what is happening in the world around me, but I know that, in the words of every attorney in every opening statement in every trial, “the evidence will show ...” and, based on that evidence, I make a deliberate, intentional, willful choice to believe.
Believe that rain makes puddles and fire makes smoke. Believe that birds cross roads and dogs chase squirrels. Believe that everything I see is evidence of an invisible truth that is the biggest story of all.