Each afternoon he took his pipe and led his goats beyond the pasture to a neighbor’s field behind his farm— not exactly his but not exactly not.
As the goats clipped the tall grasses, he sat in the chair he never failed to bring. Sometimes he read, most often not. The vetch climbed the goldenrod,
the dandelions turned from gold to globe, and every day he went, thinking to himself how good it was to be almost but not entirely alone. ~Michelle Y. Burke “A Life” from Animal Purpose
At times, when things seem a little too quiet around here, I remember my past days of working motherhood when the only moments during my day when I was alone was when I went into the bathroom and closed the door. Often that wasn’t even sacrosanct.
During those very busy years, I truly forgot how to be by myself, just existing without outside distractions and others’ input to keep my mind occupied. Now, it is too easy to rely on a phone in one’s pocket to avoid ever being “alone” just sitting with my own thoughts.
So I go out into the field whenever I can – simply to be – almost, but not entirely alone. I won’t forget that I’m never really alone – and that is always forever okay with me.
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We grow accustomed to the Dark — When Light is put away — As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp To witness her Good bye —
A Moment — We Uncertain step For newness of the night — Then — fit our Vision to the Dark — And meet the Road — erect —
And so of larger — Darknesses — Those Evenings of the Brain — When not a Moon disclose a sign — Or Star — come out — within —
The Bravest — grope a little — And sometimes hit a Tree Directly in the Forehead — But as they learn to see —
Either the Darkness alters — Or something in the sight Adjusts itself to Midnight — And Life steps almost straight. ~Emily Dickinson
So few grains of happiness measured against all the dark and still the scales balance.
The world asks of us only the strength we have and we give it. Then it asks more, and we give it. ~Jane Hirschfield from “The Weighing”
I admit that I’m stumbling about in the dark right now, bearing the bruises and scrapes of random collisions with objects hidden in the night.
My eyes must slowly adjust to such bare illumination, as the Lamp has been carried away. I must feel my way through this time of life.
I suspect there are fellow darkness travelers who also have lost their way and their Light, giving what they can and sometimes more.
And so, blinded as we each are, we run forehead-first into the Tree which has always been there and always will be.
Because of who we are and Who loves us, we, now free and forgiven, follow a darkened road nearly straight, all the way Home.
May you see God’s light on the path ahead when the road you walk is dark. May you always hear even in your hour of sorrow the gentle singing of the lark. When times are hard may hardness never turn your heart to stone. May you always remember when the shadows fall– You do not walk alone.
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how you can never reach it, no matter how hard you try, walking as fast as you can, but getting nowhere, arms and legs pumping, sweat drizzling in rivulets; each year, a little slower, more creaks and aches, less breath. Ah, but these soft nights, air like a warm bath, the dusky wings of bats careening crazily overhead, and you’d think the road goes on forever. Apollinaire wrote, “What isn’t given to love is so much wasted,” and I wonder what I haven’t given yet. A thin comma moon rises orange, a skinny slice of melon, so delicious I could drown in its sweetness. Or eat the whole thing, down to the rind. Always, this hunger for more. ~Barbara Crooker “How the Trees on Summer Nights Turn into a Dark River,” from More
I don’t move as quickly as I used to (which is good as I’m watching more closely where I step).
I need more sleep than I used to (which is good because I’m not running “on the rim” as much as I have in the past).
I am not as driven and ignited with impulses as I used to be (which is good as I take more time to savor what I have rather than crave what I think I need).
This doesn’t mean I lack appetite for this continuing journey on the endless road of summer that seems to go on forever. I’m still hungry for more and don’t want to waste a single moment.
It is getting noticeably darker earlier now and I too want to pluck any lingering light out of the sky and swallow it down whole, hoping – just hoping – it might keep me glowing on the road home.
What I didn’t know before was how horses simply give birth to other horses. Not a baby by any means, not a creature of liminal spaces, but already a four-legged beast hellbent on walking, scrambling after the mother.
A horse gives way to another horse and then suddenly there are two horses, just like that.
That’s how I loved you. You, off the long train from Red Bank carrying a coffee as big as your arm, a bag with two computers swinging in it unwieldily at your side. I remember we broke into laughter when we saw each other.
What was between us wasn’t a fragile thing to be coddled, cooed over. It came out fully formed, ready to run. ~Ada Limón “What I Didn’t Know Before”
It felt fully formed and meant to be right from the beginning, now over forty years ago. We both recognized we were ready to run unafraid, trusting our legs were strong enough to take us wherever life would lead.
We don’t need to run as often now, but we are hellbent on walking through this world together as long and far as possible, laughing and loving as often as we can.
We didn’t know it could be like this. We just needed to wait for it to be born fully formed when the time was right.
I took the dog and went to walk in the auditorium of the woods, but not to get away from things. It was our habit, that was all, a thing we did on summer days, and much there was to listen to. A slight wind came and went in three birches by the pond. A crow uphill was going on about the black life it led, and a brown creeper went creeping up a brown trunk methodically with no record of ever having been understood by anyone. A woodpecker was working out a deep hole from the sound of it in a stand of dead trees up there. And then a jay, much put upon, complained about some treachery it may or may not have endured, though most are liars anyway. The farther in, the quieter, till only the snapping of a stick broke the silence we were in. The dog stood still and looked at me, the woods by then already dark. Much later, on the porch at night, I heard the owl, an eldritch thing. The dog, still with me, heard it too, a call that came from where we’d been, and where we would not be again. ~John Foy, “Woods,” from Night Vision
We live near fields and woods so the evening walks we take with the dogs are listening walks. There is always plenty to hear.
It is an immense relief to hear something other than the talking heads on TV or podcasts. The voices we hear in the woods are unconcerned about upcoming elections, pandemics or the state of the economy.
I listen for the sound of breezes rustling the tree branches, the crunch of sticks and dry leaves under my boots, and more often than not, the woodpeckers tapping away at tree trunks, eagles chittering from the treetops, and unseen owls visiting back and forth from their hidey-holes. The red-tailed hawks scream out warnings as they float from tree top to tree top, particularly upset that we’ve brought along the corgis into their territory.
So, like the outside world, this woods has its own talking heads and drama, but I know who I will listen to and where I prefer to hang out if given a choice. I understand I’m only a visitor to their world and will be invited back only as long as we tread softly.
May you see God’s light on the path ahead when the road you walk is dark. May you always hear even in your hour of sorrow the gentle singing of the lark. When times are hard may hardness never turn your heart to stone. May you always remember when the shadows fall– You do not walk alone. ~Traditional Irish Blessing
The day starts with the promise of beauty lit across the sky and concludes with the same light on the other side of the horizon. Yet everything in between can be darkness with no relief or stark brightness leaving no place to hide.
We can endure both if we endure it together. We can travel this long road if we have each other alongside in case we stumble. We can live out our days in gratitude even through our tears.
One day thru the primeval wood A calf walked home, as good calves should, But made a trail all bent askew, A crooked trail, as all calves do. Since then three hundred years have fled, And I infer, the calf is dead; But still behind he left his trail, And thereon hangs my mortal tale.
The trail was taken up next day By a lone dog that passed that way, And then a wise bell-weather sheep Sliding into a rut now deep, Pursued that trail over hill and glade Thru those old woods a path was made.
And many men wound in and out, And dodged and turned and bent about, and uttered words of righteous wrath Because “twas such a crooked path” But still they follow-do not laugh- The first migrations of that calf.
The forest became a lane That bent and turned and turned again; This crooked lane became a road where many a poor horse with his load Toiled on beneath the burning sun, And traveled some three miles in one.
The years passed on in swiftness fleet, The village road became a street, And this, before the men were aware, A city’s crowded thoroughfare.
And soon a central street was this In a renowned metropolis; And men two centuries and a half Followed the wanderings of this calf.
Each day a hundred thousand strong Followed this zigzag calf along; And over his crooked journey went The traffic of a continent.
A hundred thousand men were led By one poor calf, three centuries dead. For just such reverence is lent To well established precedent.
A moral lesson this might teach Were I ordained and called to preach.
For men are prone to go it blind Along the calf paths of the mind; And work away from sun to sun To do what other men have done. ~Sam Walter Foss “Cow Path”
Each day and night fly by more swiftly than the previous. It is as if minutes are exponentially more compressed than in the past, hurtling forward to an inevitable destination, but the estimated time of arrival is unknown.
I struggle in late middle age to keep perspective while traveling this road of life, looking back at where I’ve been, and hoping for the best about where I’m headed, and trying to stick to the winding path ahead without deviation. My regret about this journey is that I haven’t stopped nearly often enough to simply take in the scenery, listen to the birds, smell the orchard blossoms, and feel the grass under my bare feet.
It is the conundrum of following the cow path laid down before me, traveling the well-worn pathway of precedent.
Nevertheless, as with all cow paths, there may have been no greater reason for the bend or curve than a patch of tall appealing grass at one time, or a good itching spot on a tree trunk or a boulder obstructing the way. Still I follow the curve, dodge the boulder, tread the zig zag. My path may appear random without focus on the destination and that’s okay: I need to stop once in awhile, settle down for a really good nap, enjoy a particularly fine meal, read an insightful book, or play a lovely hymn. It is not which path I’ve traveled to my eventual destination but the quality of my journey along the way.
I enjoy the twists and turns of life if I take the time to appreciate them. Just maybe – I’ll throw in a few curves of my own for those who are following behind me.
All the paths of the Lord are loving and faithful Psalm 25:10
“All does not mean ‘all – except the paths I am walking in now,’ or ‘nearly all – except this especially difficult and painful path.’ All must mean all. So, your path with its unexplained sorrow or turmoil, and mine with its sharp flints and briers – and both our paths, with their unexplained perplexity, their sheer mystery – they are His paths, on which he will show Himself loving and faithful. Nothing else; nothing less. ~Amy Carmichael–Anglican missionary to India 1867-1951
Sometimes we come upon forks in the road where we may not be certain which path to take. Perhaps explore the Robert Frost “less traveled” one? Or take the one that seems less tangled and uncertain from all appearances?
Sometimes we have chosen a particular path which looked inviting at the time, trundling along minding our own business, yet we start bonking our heads on low hanging branches, or get grabbed by stickers and thorns that rip our clothes and skin, or trip over prominent roots and rocks that impede our progress and bruise our feet.
Sometimes we come to a sudden end in a path and face a steep cliff with no choice but to leap or turn back through the mess we have just slogged through.
Navigating the road to the cross must have felt like ending up at that steep cliff. There was no turning back, no choosing or negotiating a different pathway or taking time to build a staircase into the rocks. His words reflect His uncertainty and terror. His words reflect our deepest doubts and fears–how are we to trust we are on the right path?
When we take that next step, no matter which way, we end up in the Father’s loving and faithful arms. He has promised this.
Our hair turns white with our ripening as though to fly away in some coming wind, bearing the seed of what we know… Having come the bitter way to better prayer, we have the sweetness of ripening. ~Wendell Berry in “Ripening”
My husband and I walk our country road together on a warm late summer evening, breathing in the smell of ripening cornstalks and freshly mowed grass lined up in windrows, much like the walks we took together nearly thirty years ago when we were newly married. Just down the road, we pass the smaller farm we first owned having left the city behind for a new life amid quieter surroundings. The seedling trees we planted there are now a thick grove and effective windbreak from the bitter howling northeasters we endured. The fences need work after 25 years, the blackberries have swallowed up the small barn where our first horses, goats, chickens and cows lived, the house needs painting, nevertheless there is such sweetness recalling the first home we owned together.
On this road, our children were conceived and raised, strolling these same steps with us many times, but now flown thousands of miles away for their life’s work. My husband and I are back to walking together again, just the two of us, wondering how each child is doing at this very moment, pondering how the passage of time could be so swift that our hair is turning white and we are going to seed when only yesterday we were so young.
We ripen before we’re ready.
It is bitter sweetness relinquishing what we know, to face what we can never know.
It is the mystery that keeps us coming back, walking the same steps those younger legs once did, admiring the same setting sun, smelling the same late summer smells. But we are not the same as we were, having finally come to the fruitfulness intended all along.