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Unstuck from time


The Guardian

A couple of weeks ago I bought a pair of hunting boots so I could walk in the woods again. The woods stand right across the street, a narrow strip bordering the south side of a farm field of some 60 acres. The north and west sides of the field end at the bottoms of tree-filled hills I used to scramble up and down with my dog, King, but King died many years ago, and I couldn’t bring myself to visit the woods without him.

I’ve been going back, though, since buying the boots, and I was happy to see the terrain is all but unrecognizable. Countless beech trees have been felled by winds, crashing across paths King and I used to walk on. There are new ways up the hillside now, though: the worn paths of deer. The deer population is much larger than before. Their paths crisscross the hillsides.


I used clamber from bottom to top without thinking about it. Now, though, I take my time. I’m out of shape, and these days I see too many obituaries of people my age. Add the fear of a heart attack to the fear of a fall and a broken leg, and I meander up the hill, pausing halfway to check my pulse and catch my breath. During those pauses, I realize the voices in my head, the ever-present monologue/narrative, have gone silent. I am grateful for the calm.

An American Romantic writer (Emerson, I think) said he was happy as long as he could see far enough. On my walks my views are limited because the field and surrounding woods are bordered by roads and not by boundless space. In the woods, though, being unable to see far down the path brings the same feelings as Emerson’s.

I alternate walks in the woods with walking around the perimeter of the big farm field. The longest uninterrupted view is a little over a half-mile, but Emerson’s words come again to mind outside, a place with no ceiling. A former professor of mine once said, “The sky is always interesting,” and he was right. How many of us take time to notice the clouds as we walk from our cars into our houses? How many times do we watch sunsets slide through orange, red, gold, silver and purple? What are the names of clouds? How many constellations do we know? What are the moon’s phases called?

Can we name the trees? Wild weeds and plants? Birds? I know a few, but shouldn’t I be able to name them all? A life spent beneath ceilings distracts us from these things, which existed long before we were born and will exist long after we die. In our temporary lives, shouldn’t we embrace the permanent?

I clambered out of the woods today and headed for the gap in the trees leading back into my neighborhood. As I walked, I wondered what time it was. I have a good internal clock, but nonetheless, I had no idea how long I’d been walking.

I realized then the greatest gift the woods gives me: I become unstuck in time. The clock cannot dictate the terms of my life when I’m following a deer path and have to stoop to pass beneath scratchy, wild-branched trees that deer pass beneath easily. Minutes and hours have no meaning when I reach a hilltop and look for wild turkeys, which I saw there years ago as King ran for the sheer joy of it, off leash but always coming back as if to say, “C’mon, Dad—we’ve got a lot more ground to cover.”

He was right, then. And he still is.

Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
anita_margarita
Dec. 28th, 2014 01:13 am (UTC)
I think you have the makings of a great short story here. or a book.
patrick_vecchio
Dec. 28th, 2014 02:28 am (UTC)
I hadn't thought of that. Now I'll not think about it for a while and see what surfaces. (I hope that makes sense.)
anita_margarita
Dec. 28th, 2014 02:30 am (UTC)
I once read about a children's club - I am thinking it was E.B. White as a child who formed it, but don't quote me on that - of which the requirements to join were to sit for thirty minutes and not think of a white bear.
patrick_vecchio
Dec. 28th, 2014 02:00 pm (UTC)
That sounds like a certain Seinfeld episode.
penshark
Dec. 28th, 2014 05:24 am (UTC)
That totally makes sense -- hope not thinking about it brings either more words or the certainty that this is the size this should be.
patrick_vecchio
Dec. 28th, 2014 02:00 pm (UTC)
As someone who wrote on deadline for 22+ years, I'm not sure I'd have the patience to do much else. But a bunch of these? Hmmm.
nodressrehersal
Dec. 28th, 2014 01:26 am (UTC)
Stunning. Simply stunning.
patrick_vecchio
Dec. 28th, 2014 02:29 am (UTC)
Thanks! That one pretty much wrote itself after I got the first paragraph figured out.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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Wish I'd Said It

Nota bene: “Fear has governed my life, if I think about it. ... I always feel like I’m not good enough for some reason. I wish that wasn’t the case, but left to my own devices, that voice starts speaking up.” – Trent Reznor

“I hate to say this, but not many people care what you do. They care about what you do as much as you care about what they do. Think about it. Just exactly that much. You are not the center of the universe.” — Laurie Anderson

"The path's not yours till you've gone it alone a time." – William Carlos Williams

“Filling this empty space constitutes my identity.” – Twyla Tharp

"My definition of peace is having no noise in my head." – Eric Clapton

"The wreckage of the sky serves to confirm us in delicious error." – John Ashbery

"We are all here by the grace of the big bang. We are all literally the stuff of the stars." – Dwight Owsley

"For my part, I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of stars makes me dream." – Vincent van Gogh

"It is only with the heart that one can see right; what is essential is invisible to the eye." — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

"Forget about being a perfectionist, because entropy always wins out in the end." – Darren Kaufman.

"Impermanence. Impermanence. Impermanence." – Garry Shandling

"Fame is a vapor; popularity an accident; the only earthly certainty is oblivion." – Mark Twain

"There is no realm wherein we have the truth." – Gordon Lish

"Actual life is full of false clues and sign-posts that lead nowhere." – E.M. Forster

“Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe." – Frank Zappa

“I try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.” – Elmore Leonard

“The secret of being a bore is to tell everything.” – Voltaire

• Journal title and subtitle: Ian Hunter, “Man Overboard”

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