The Road Ahead

He sometimes felt that he had missed his life
By being far too busy looking for it.
Searching the distance, he often turned to find
That he had passed some milestone unaware…

The path grew easier with each passing day,
Since it was worn and mostly sloped downhill.
The road ahead seemed hazy in the gloom.
Where was it he had meant to go, and with whom?
~Dana Gioia from “The Road” from 99 Poems: New and Selected

The Road goes ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone.
Let others follow, if they can!
Let them a journey new begin.
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet.

Still ’round the corner there may wait
A new road or secret gate;
And though I oft have passed them by,
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.
~J.R.R Tolkien from “Roads Go Ever On”

Like many others, I have experienced the disconcerting feeling of traveling a familiar route with my mind completely disengaged. Suddenly I find myself at my destination without a conscious realization of how I even got there or what I saw along the way. Or maybe I was doing a routine daily task and later couldn’t remember having done it (did I shut off the barn faucet or are the water barrels flooding over all day?) because my head was somewhere else.

We describe this as “auto-pilot” or “body memory” or more distressingly “dissociation” — most therapists prescribe “mindfulness” to reengage us in our daily lives and thoughts. I’m not sure it is mindfulness that I practice, but I do force regular “brain check-ins” to anchor me to a time and place and task. (“yes, I have just passed that intersection where that truck and trailer almost hit me years ago and I am grateful to still be alive” or “I am now shutting off the barn faucet and won’t have to think about it again until tomorrow, thank you very much!”)

I regret “missing out” on experiencing my journey because I was so busy scanning the horizon for what is to come or looking back at where I’ve been, or watching where my feet will land or thinking about anywhere but where I was in the moment.

I need to acknowledge the milestones and not pass them by unawares — stopping at the view points, reading the historical markers, taking a breather at the rest stops. I seek to find the hidden paths and explore them rather than be solely destination-driven.

I must pay attention to who is alongside me and be ready to steady them if they trip or stumble, and pray they’ll catch me if I start to fall.

And most importantly, may I stay pointed toward the lighted inn that is awaiting all of us.

Returning Home

A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.
~George Moore

I remember well the feeling of restlessness, having an itch that couldn’t be reached, feeling too rooted and uneasy staying in one place for long, especially if that place was my hometown.  I knew I must be destined for greater things, grander plans and extraordinary destinations.  There exists in most human beings an inborn compulsion to wander far beyond one’s own threshold, venturing out into unfamiliar and sometimes hostile surroundings simply because one can.   It is the prerogative of the young to explore, loosen anchor and pull up stakes and simply go.  Most cannot articulate why but simply feel something akin to a siren call.

And so at twenty I heard and I went, considerably aging my parents in the process and not much caring that I did.  To their credit, they never told me no, never questioned my judgment, and never inflicted guilt when I returned home after the adventure went sour.

I had gone on a personal quest to the other side of the world and had come home empty.  But home itself was not empty nor had it ever been and has not been since.

There is a Dorothy-esque feeling in returning home from a land of wonders and horrors, to realize there is no place like home.    There was no way to know until I went away,  searching, then coming home empty-handed, to understand home was right inside my heart the whole time.  There was no leaving after all, not really.

So I’m here to stay–there is no greater, grander or more extraordinary than right here.  Even now when I board a plane for a far off place, I know I’ll be back as this is where the search ends and the lost found.

At almost 65, my head now rests easy on the pillow.

I tell you this
to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again
to the rest of the world.
— Mary Oliver from “Lead”
from New and Selected Poems

Just Passing Through

goodnightgeese

 

octobergeese

 

morningswans

 

starlingmurmur3

 

All through August and September
            thousands, maybe
tens of thousands, of feathered
            creatures pass through
this place and I almost never see
            a single one. The fall
wood warbler migration goes by here
            every year, all of them,
myriad species, all looking sort of like
            each other, yellow, brown, gray,
all muted versions of their summer selves,
            almost indistinguishable
from each other, at least to me, although
            definitely not to each other, 
all flying by, mostly at night, calling to each
            other as they go to keep
the flock together, saying: chip, zeet,
            buzz, smack, zip, squeak—
            those
sounds reassuring that we are
            all here together and
heading south, all of us just passing
            through, just passing
through, just passing through, just
            passing through.
~David Budbill “Invisible Visitors”

 

starlingmurmur

 

morningswans2

 

geesev3

 

Some feathered travelers slip past us unseen and unheard.  They may stop for a drink in the pond or a bite to eat in the field and woods, but we never know they are there – simply passing through.

Others are compelled to announce their journey with great fanfare, usually heard before seen.  The drama of migration becomes bantering conversation from bird to bird, bird to earth, bird to sun, moon and stars, with unseen magnetic forces pointing the way.

When not using voices, their wings sing the air with rhythmic beat and whoosh.

We’re all together here — altogether — even when our voices are raised sharply, our silences brooding, our hurts magnified, our sorrows deep, so our route of travel becomes a matter of debate.

Our destination is not in dispute however.  We’re all heading to the same place no matter how we get there.

We’re all just passing through, just passing through, just passing through.

 

swansong

 

geeseoctober2

 

starlingmurmur2

 

geese913

To Find My Way

oaklane3

 

darkhedgesantique

 

into the coppery halls
of beech and intricate oak
to be close to the trees
as they whisper together
let fall their leaves,
and we die for the winter 
~Katherine Towers “Whim Wood” from The Remedies

 

pathwaylight2

 

eveninglane

 

 

Lord: it’s time. The summer was magnificent. 
Lay your shadows upon the sun-dials 
and o’er the isles allow your winds to vent.

Command the final fruits to be full and fine; 
give them two more days in the southern sun, 
push them to completion and then run 
the last sweetness through the heavy wine.

He who now has no house, will build one never. 
He who is alone, will long so remain, 
will awaken, read, lengthy letters pen 
and in the lanes will forever 
restlessly wander, when the leaves are driven.
~Rainer Maria Rilke “Autumn Day”

 

hohpath

 

 

centralroadlane

 

I’m drawn to pathways that lead to an unseen destination ahead.

Perhaps the endpoint is out of sight round a curve, or over a rise, or it is too far distant for my eyes to find.

I’m called to journey forth, even when staying put seems easier.  There is a restlessness to these days, to these wanderings, as I keep looking behind to see where I’ve been.

Lord, help me find my way.  Lord, it is time I find my way.

 

darkhedges2antique

 

oaklane2

 

 

Almost There

bakersunsetmoon

 

centralroadwest

 

mownfield3

 

fenceline4

 

Take me as I drive alone
Through the dark countryside.
As the strong beams clear a path,
Picking out fences, weeds, late
Flowering trees, everything
That streams back into the past
Without sound. I smell the grass
And the rich chemical sleep
Of the fields. An open moon
Sails above, and a stalk
Of red lights blinks, miles away.

It is at such moments I
Am called, in a voice so pure
I have to close my eyes and enter
The breathing darkness just beyond
My headlights. I have come back.
I think, to something I had
Almost forgotten, a mouth
That waits patiently, sighs, speaks,
And falls silent. No one else
Is alive. The blossoms are
White, and I am almost there.
Robert Mezey “White Blossoms” from Collected Poems

 

fuschiadrops

 

whitepeony2

 

waterlilydan

 

So much of our lives, we travel in near darkness, barely discerning where we are headed, the beams of the headlights only reaching so far.  It is disconcerting not knowing the destination or when the journey will end.

Traveling blind, so to speak.

Yet there is much to see and hear and touch along the way, so we stay awake and pay attention.

We’re almost there.  Almost there.

 

thistledown824142

 

bakerwhites3

 

wwuwhiteflower

 

whitehearts

 

 

A Path of Pathlessness

morningswans

geese913

Wind finds the northwest gap, fall comes.
Today, under gray cloud-scud and over gray
Wind-flicker of forest, in perfect formation, wild geese
Head for a land of warm water, the boom, the lead pellet.

Some crumple in air, fall. Some stagger, recover control,
Then take the last glide for a far glint of water. None
Knows what has happened. Now, today, watching
How tirelessly V upon V arrows the season’s logic.

Do I know my own story? At least, they know
When the hour comes for the great wind-beat. Sky-strider,
Star-strider–they rise, and the imperial utterance,
Which cries out for distance, quivers in the wheeling sky.

That much they know, and in their nature know
The path of pathlessness, with all the joy
Of destiny fulfilling its own name.
I have known time and distance, but not why I am here.

Path of logic, path of folly, all
The same–and I stand, my face lifted now skyward,
Hearing the high beat, my arms outstretched in the tingling
Process of transformation, and soon tough legs,

With folded feet, trail in the sounding vacuum of passage,
And my heart is impacted with a fierce impulse
To unwordable utterance–
Toward sunset, at a great height.
~Robert Penn Warren from “The Collected Poems”

 

snowgeese4

geesesouth

I wish I could be as sure
as the geese and swans flying noisy overhead~
they trust where they are led
is where they belong.

They may not make it there
but nevertheless they go.

I wish I might fly into the setting sun
on a path of pathlessness
knowing only that I am sent
because the call is stronger
than I am.

paths

evening11316

sunset93162