Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The quarry

Out walking alone on a gray, sullen morning, a biting northwesterly wind tromping through the pumpkin field and corn maze, the apple orchard and riding ring, pestering the blanketed horses in the barn. They snort fitfully. The wind carries with it dreams of hibernation, of hearth and candlelight, down comforters and cauldrons of thick steaming soup, it brings news of the north country, the dormancy and darkness there, where existence is again being stripped down to its bare essentials, as life folds in upon itself, from branch to trunk to root. Listening for but not hearing one human sound, just the clacking of empty limbs and the clamorous rustling of downed leaves, I turn to climb Wawayanda Mountain, the wind now behind me, pushing me up toward the abandoned iron mines and dammed streams, past the historical marker on Barrett Road, thinking to myself, nothing here is true wilderness, this land was settled centuries ago, but today this tract is wild with my longing for that scriptural peace that passeth understanding. The words I learned as a child.

There is no one else on the trail today. The children are in school, their parents are working or else looking for work, the old and sick are lying in bed, and the infants and mothers are living out the rhythm of new life wherever they are, at home, in the car, out shopping, asleep. But not on the trail. Here there are only titmice, chickadees, nuthatches. A lone peewee. Year-rounders, these little birds, not needing much, just the desire and stout heart to make it through another bitter season. They look at me queerly. Perhaps these are childish things upon which I brood -- the notion of an ultimate good in a world of destruction and decay, the nobility of fighting well for a lost cause, the refusal to surrender to pessimism. Having lived this long with disappointment, mainly in myself, perhaps it's time to give these childish things a rest. Let go and let live. Hush now.

Walk and breathe. Let go of the body's aches and pains, its slow inexorable breakdown. Look in front of you: there's still a lot of climb left. A quarter of a mile up, I turn around and look back down at the Wallkill Valley, the protected watershed that stretches for miles and provides the comforting illusion that open space abounds up here. A couple of miles south you'll find hillsides strewn with flimsy and ugly condominium developments, an amusement park, and, of course, along the freshly-paved county road, the inevitable strip center, with its inevitable pizzeria and convenience store. But here it is quiet. Here you see mostly trees, bush, and tall grasses. Two roads, a couple of farms, cows, horses, the effects of wind. Sometimes I am stricken with a feeling of physical kinship to this world so deep, so overwhelming, I can barely stand up. Such weight. Such lightness. I would pray but I don't know a prayer powerful enough to give voice to this feeling. And even if I did, to whom should I direct my lauds? Instead, I emulate a tree. And, as the poet enjoined, give the wind a way.
More words.

I turn back to the task at hand. I know so very little, but I do know how to put one foot in front of the other and walk. I hope I don't slip. I hope I get to the top. I hope this life goes further than my paltry imagination has taken it. I hope I find my quarry.

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