The leaving of the land of my birth was an abrupt, overnight event. One day I was there, the next I was not. I spread my wings, in search of what every young man seeks. The return, many years later, was a slow, sporadic process, in fits and starts, as though a testing of the waters, a cautious breath on the embers of old friendships, forgotten connections, that for decades, lay hidden, buried in the ash of time, still there but dormant, waiting to be rekindled. With cupped hands, shielding and gently blowing, they sprang to life, brighter, hotter, more intense than they ever were. One came from nowhere, stood before me, as though to say “I burn for you.” And that heat warmed me, and caused me to burn as well, in a fiery dance that threatened to consume any who dared to touch. But all the embers were there, and the pull was undeniable, impossible to resist, and if you listened closely, with heart instead of ears, you could hear them say “Come, join us, be one of us, be us.” And like Icarus before the sun, or a moth orbiting a flame, I circled, in an ever-decreasing spiral, toward a center so fiercely hot that wings of wax had no choice but to melt. And I thought “Let me reach the center, before my wings are gone.”
My birth land was too low to be high country, too high to be low country. An in-between that held the best of both, the worst of both, that sat squarely between the metaphorical antithesis of Muir and Conroy. A contradiction that was intensely cold in winter, breathtakingly hot in summer, mountains so high, deserts so near, that a well thrown stone could connect the two. But it was my home, and that of people I love, and like a carrier pigeon, barring storm or hawk, it was there I was destined to return.
I don’t recall when it was that I joined the ranks of adulthood, nor am I fully convinced that I have yet done so. Hopefully, there’s time enough to achieve a goal so worthy, should I decide to grow up. But when I’m perched atop Grownup Mountain, will I be tempted to roll back down the slope and try to steal back some of the days of my youth? If I look down, will I see the boulders that are the milestones of a noteworthy life, or the chasms of failure that cut across my personal trail? Will the ascent have been worth it? I believe so, as much for the journey as the destination.
I would like to think that my years away added seasoning, spiced with compassion, understanding, and tolerance. I don’t think of them as lost years, but more as a training camp for the upcoming season, preparing me through trial and joy and heartache, for better days. I feel, with all my heart, that the days ahead will be better.
In the early years of my exodus, I found myself to be lost, in a manner of speaking. Looking back at that time, endless days of nothing, blending together into a vague, blurry mess, I’m amazed that I managed to emerge, for the most part, whole and only slightly damaged. The body that was supposed to be my temple, became a drafty tent, incapable of repelling the elements, self-abused to the point of non-existence. It would be easy to say that I was a victim, but if that were true, then it was of myself. And maybe, in an attempt to find our limits, to push them just short of the breaking point, we all experienced some of the same things, though many did not survive the process.
I was compelled to mention, if briefly, those days that are behind me. For though they shaped me more than any potter shapes vessels of clay, still, they are gone, and while subject to inspection, will not suffer correction. Today, my focus is forward, to the days ahead, days that when, in some future too far before me to know, and are gazed back upon, hopefully do not beg for correction by the simple fact that they do not need correcting. If I can live my life in such a manner, then past failures become nothing more than the building blocks of a better life.
That this place, these old friends, accept me, welcome and embrace me, sparks in me indescribable joy. I know that I have found the true wealth of this valley; it lies in the people, and after all the gold is gone, no more diamonds to be pulled from the ground, the true wealth will remain, inexplicably drawn to this geographical spot, tied by beauty, bound by love, willing prisoners in a utopian prison.
As I stand here today, struck speechless by the beauty of the confluence of two rivers, I see this place for what it was, and what it is, and I can’t help but wonder what it will come of it, and whether I will be a part of it, without need to shape or influence in any way, but only to observe it, and love it.
Now, this body is old and faded, peeling like worn out paint on a clapboard house. But if you wipe away the dust, and look through the windows of my eyes, into my heart, you will see everything that is me. And if you look closely, might glimpse the ending of what was me, and the beginning of what I am to become. While you may see my story, and from that, gather a clue as to a possible outcome, you will not see the final line, for in a story with no conclusion, it will never be written, and will always remain unfinished.