Easter Thoughts By an Old River
It was so nice to slip the harness and vanish to the shores of the Pamlico River over Easter weekend, if only to get away from my unanswered emails and a constantly ringing cellphone.
The last time I checked late Friday, just before I shut down my laptop for the holiday, I had 4,367 unanswered emails, not quite a new office record but close, most of them from people who tagged their messages with enticing opportunities like, "Jim, meet fetching Russian women who REALLY want to me you!" or "Dear, isn't it time you experienced the comfort of the new and improved SUPER BRA!"
The ringing phones I can handle. I just don't answer them and let the caller simply leave a message, which they can rarely do because my message "folder," wherever it is, is normally full. Every now and then, in fact, a bossy voice that sounds suspiciously like my 10th grade homeroom teacher, Miss Edna "Ben Franklin" Gamble, barges on to testily remind me that my message folder is full and I need to delete old messages ASAP so new messages I probably won't check anytime soon can fill it back up.
Look, I'm sorry. Part of me wishes I could be a fully functional, tech-savvy, 21st century media dude, but I truly can't. I see these TV spots where the modern multifunctional business stud flies through busy airports or swanky martini bars making megadeals on his mobile phone or talking iPad, answering emails, coyly video chatting with his supermodel girlfriend in Tangiers or his cute kids off at Camp Moose Breath, remotely checking his stock portfolio and the latest Major League trade moves while simultaneously starting his new Lexus and setting his house alarm, and, well, it makes me want to go sit quietly in the woods for a quiet month or two.
Actually, I love sitting quietly in the woods. I used to do it several times a week when our house was in the middle of a 600-acre hemlock and birch forest in Maine, plunking down on a large moss-covered boulder I called my "thinking rock" beneath an ancient ginko tree and a vernal stream nobody but my dogs and me knew about.
Give me a forest full of old trees, with a dog and a stream and a rock (and me) somewhere in it, by gum, and I feel halfway to heaven. In another life I must have been either an aspiring transcendental poet or maybe even a ginko tree. My wife strongly favors the tree.
I feel pretty much the same way about old rivers, if you haven't guessed by now, which is why sitting for three days on the porch of a rustic cabin owned by chums on the Pamlico was such a blessed tonic to the soul.
All I did was eat, drink and watch the river flow to the sea.
Actually, that's not quite true. I savored the music of good friends swapping stories, telling bad jokes, playing, catching up on family news, and thought: How healing is the sweet sound of good friends sharing food and fellowship where laptops and cellphones fear to tread.
I also slept in an old-fashioned bed whose springs sounded like a rusty symphony and rose before dawn to watch river birds and see the moon rise over the water.
This Is Nature's Way
As is normally the case at some moments, when noisy non-essentials blissfully fall away, I begin to realize how little I need and desire in this life to make me glad I've come this way.
One of my children, our oldest, last year's college graduate, just moved to New York City to take her first big job, and a second graduates from college in a scant four weeks and plans to venture that way, too. Their future is an unblemished page, awaiting the pen.
A moment or two ago, though, as this river of life flows, they were a couple of giddy tow-headed squirts chasing a Whiffle ball on the lawn on a cool April evening by that beautiful birch and hemlock forest, and now they have busy lives and big city ambitions and things going on I have no need or ambition to hear about. This is nature's way.
Rocks grow moss and children grow up. They find their way like a vernal stream through a birch wood, taking tumbles and forming brief beautiful pools, ever moving on. The stream leads to the wider river and eventually the sea. They probably don't worry about their mom and me half as much as we worry about them, nor they needn't. That's exactly the way things are meant to be, some ancient code you can only see when you yourself begin to become an ancient ginko.
It sometimes astonishes me to have traveled so far and to realize I have so much and want so little: a bigger garden to disappear into at dawn and late afternoon would be nice; a good Italian fountain pen; time to finish a pair of novels that may or may not ever see print; this small thing or that; movies with my wife; evenings with our river friends; maybe a road trip someday around my native South with my golf clubs and fly rod. Nothing beyond this can I state with anything resembling pure conviction.
Another Kind of Awakening
I used to dream of seeing a book of mine displayed in the window of a New York bookshop. This happened three books ago and, well, nice as it was, it didn't move the Earth. No one noticed me standing there on the sidewalk before the window. That's OK. I hardly noticed, myself.
The other night, however, I dreamed I was dying.
It wasn't a sad dream. In fact, I actually felt a great deal of peace about the whole thing, as if all my important tasks had been completed, my garden properly tidied up, my goodbyes rendered with a grateful hugs. I was going through rooms of our old house though, looking for something to give to someone, though I don't remember who, and I don't remember what.
Upon waking, my wise bed companion told me this kind of dream merely suggests another kind of waking up: a longing for rebirth, a new life unfolding.
As I realized by the Pamlico on Easter weekend, there are still a few things I need to learn before I wake up completely and vacate this garden paradise - beginning with birds by their songs and constellations by their stars. I wish I knew Italian, too - but like the Russian girls who really want to meet me, that's probably not in the cards at this late date.
Every morning back home, the loveliest bird cuts loose with the same pre-dawn threnody at exactly 5:30 a.m. and it gives me goose bumps and mild grief that I don't know this creature by sight and sound - if only to say a passing thanks.
My friend Whit and I walked down the dirt road tunneled by forest trees to see his garden by the river late on Easter Saturday afternoon, pausing to watch purple martins wheeling against the afternoon sun. I don't recall much of what we talked about - this and that, our daughters, Bubba Watson's pink driver - but it doesn't matter because I couldn't help hearing lines from Mary Oliver committed to memory years ago. The perfect Easter message of rebirth:
Every year everything I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads me back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
is salvation, whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world
you must be able to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
Who knows what lies down an ancient river or in a deep birch wood or even on a crowded city street where your children are making their busy lives.
It's enough for me to be here for now, with friends, with you, to hold what I must against my bones until I -simply let it go, including 4,000 unanswered emails I will probably just never get to, not quite ready for the comfort of a Super Bra, -anyway.
Award-winning author Jim Dodson, Sunday essayist with The Pilot and editor of PineStraw magazine, can be reached at email@example.com.
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