Oftentimes, just prior to jotting down a thought, I’ll ask myself is this worth sharing? I suppose by being a habitual writer, I’ve likely replied yes to that same question more often than was necessary or true. And though I can’t speak for others, I’m pretty certain that I overestimate the number of people in my life who actually read for pleasure and entertainment. I can’t imagine a life without books (and by books, I mean books– ink and paper goodness surrounded by a stalwart team of covers and spine). But my taste in books might not be your taste in books and thus, I’m never quite sure what you’ll think of the drivel I offer for your amusement. Blogging, the seemingly noncommittal cousin to writing, requires less of a commitment by the reader, and a broader understanding of readership by the author. I recognize that time is precious and I’m hopeful not to waste any of yours. This story however, is one I believe worth sharing and should you find yourself bored or uninterested, I would recommend only that you take a long and restorative walk in the woods.
Not long ago, Paul and I set out on a short weekend hike to one of my favorite places called Prosser Pines; it was recommended by a friend years ago and still, we return again and again. By hikers standards, the area is small and the variety of flora and fauna, limited. But, I am called to this place for its sheltering pines stretching overhead, and its forgiving carpet of needles underfoot. It seems we visit only in winter and each time we do, I promise myself a return trip in early spring for a barefoot romp through soft and spent needles. Our last visit was a hurried one as we were racing daylight (and visitors with large untethered dogs- solely my issue). We have always appreciated the natural surroundings, devoid of modern creation or interference, so imagine our surprise when we happened upon a teepee type structure carefully fashioned from felled limbs. A few fellow hikers were milling about, likely as perplexed as we by its presence. One couple headed into the opening of the structure and Paul encouraged me to do the same. Though curious, I felt oddly like an uninvited guest and considered the possibility that it served as temporary shelter for some unfortunate soul. Understandably, there wasn’t an ant to be seen due to the frigid temps and the fact that my husband’s pants were full of them; he circled and stalked the structure until the couple emerged and promptly went inside to have a look.
Disappointedly, he called to me from inside and remarked that there wasn’t much to see, save for an overturned pail and a pile of tree bark shavings. Just prior to exiting the teepee however, he noticed what might otherwise have been mistaken for a cigarette, if not for a bright crimson tie. He emerged from the structure clutching the small, tightly rolled object and immediately, I encouraged (demanded) he replace it. Still, and inexplicably, in the midst of public parkland, I felt we were trespassing. As we debated whether or not to peek inside the small scroll, I considered it might be part of the geocaching trend about which I had read, but still knew very little. I did recall however that most ‘caches’ include some type of container filled with the found goods; a small paper scroll seemed hardly appropriate for the game. After some lively banter (arguing), we agreed that the scroll, once read, would be returned unaltered to its location of origin (precisely the same pile of leaf matter from which it emerged). I removed the ribbon, unfurled the damp white paper, and proceeded to read its contents aloud -one of my favorite (annoying) pastimes (habits). I’m not sure what Paul expected but I was guessing the unfurled scroll, about the size of a postcard, might offer a cryptic message pointing to the whereabouts of a coveted cache. Instead, with no greeting or title, this is what I found and read aloud:
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
I need not explain why after reading that, we both stood in complete silence. I read it again silently to myself and my eyes stuck fast to “in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be.” That line, the one buried first among pine bark and leaf matter, and now into my consciousness, was at once as haunting to me as it was familiar. And not because I read it twice, but because the uncertainty of which that line speaks is universal. I can’t recall who spoke first (me), but as promised we secured the scroll with its red ribbon and hastily returned it to its place. Darkness chased us to the parking field, and as we shook the soil from our shoes, I tried desperately to recall key words from the neat and tiny penmanship, but my mind fought me. On the ride home, the magic of those pines miraculously cast its spell on lapsing mid-life memory, because we were able to piece together enough words between us to research the origin of the written verse from my cell phone (thank you Google). It is, as some of you might recognize, a poem by Wendell Berry called The Peace of Wild Things, and though in stature it pales in comparison to those majestic pines at Prosser, the depth and magnitude of its existence can be measured equally.
Admittedly, I am still haunted by the thought of a fellow human seeking shelter under such permeable matter, and I still wonder for whom that scroll was intended and by whom it was penned. But these niggling thoughts have been overshadowed by an awakened appreciation for our good earth and a newfound respect for poetry.
What Wendell Berry accomplishes in just a few carefully composed lines is what we amateur writers dream about; having the innate ability to write and share prose that connects us on a most basic and human level is one of God’s great gifts. How grateful I am to have found my footing among pines and (unexpectedly) poetry on an otherwise ordinary January afternoon. If the experience has taught me anything, it has instilled a belief in me that if we wish to connect with the good that lives within us, we must religiously and mindfully connect with what naturally exists outside. For a time, I shied away from my calling to write. Not having ‘proper’ credentials, or any real mission or purpose seemed to be sufficient reasons to close that chapter of my creative life. It has been a difficult calling to ignore because good, bad, or otherwise, history calls me a writer.
As a young child I fancied a good limerick (Remember Nipsey Russell of Hollywood Squares fame? You should know I had a mad crush on him and his skills for rhyme- let this be our secret). While classmates clapped along to ditties like “Miss Mary Mack” I was mentally rewording them. In grade school I dabbled in amateur poetry, much to the delight of my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Dean. She reserved a closet wall for my musings, above which she tacked a placard that read “Marvelous Michelle.” My love and respect for the magic of words was, and remains instilled in me. As life got more complicated, I continued to write in spurts and solely for my own sanity, until (ironically) my early college years as an English major. Sadly, I caved to conformity and one professor in particular scared out of me whatever remnants of poet were left; soon after, I abandoned the major, the college, and writing for a time. Adulthood finds me closeting the haikus I tend to compose when I’m half asleep, and until our discovery at Prosser Pines, I believed poetry, like physics, was for greater minds than mine. As an amateur and untrained writer, I’ve never know what, if anything, I’m actually meant to write. Taming the writer’s mind, can be much like taming a wild beast, and much like Max in Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, I have led you, dear readers, along with me. You have so graciously and patiently followed~ for this, and so many other things, I am grateful. This is just the beginning and so, I hope you’ll visit often.
Let the wild rumpus begin!
Now hurry back…
Dinner is waiting for you.