Pebbles in a stream

Pebbles in a stream
August 2017

Yesterday evening, my sons and I set up camp by the side of a wild mountain river. After the tent was staked and the firewood chopped, I began to prepare our meal while the boys set about exploring the riverbank. A few minutes later, #1 son came back to get me; “there’s something you need to see.”

There in the river about 200 feet from our campsite was a small but impressive rock sculpture garden. Some creative and formidably patient soul had engaged in the modern art of balancing rocks. Most of the rock ‘statues’ were fairly simple—a round granite cobble placed atop a flat piece of sandstone or schist. But, several were considerably more complicated. One, in particular, seemed nearly impossible—an obelisk-shaped stone perched atop a natural pyramid. It was difficult to imagine how this dramatic stone finger pointing at the sky could possibly remain stable for a fleeting second, let alone minutes, hours, ….or days?

The boys were anxious for me to see the balancing rock sculptures and take some photos. As they put it, ‘they’re not going to last long.’

When I arrived back at camp the following evening after a soggy solo hike, the tent was not quite floating but surrounded by puddles. Sure enough, the river was swollen from the thunderstorms and most of the rock sculptures had been swept away; lost and gone forever.

Perhaps it’s a cliché to muse that rock sculptures in a mountain stream represent the ephemeral nature of all works of man. Modern artists have imbibed the lessons of Ozymandius through their high school English classes. All our works, whether toiled over by thousands of slaves or sculpted by a single craftsman, are overwhelmed by the hands of time.

While the balanced rock sculptures were ephemeral, they were also beautiful—especially when glistening in the sun and surrounded by a cascade. The fact that I only saw the sculptures for a few minutes made them all the more memorable. They were crafted with care, stood up against powerful forces, and then they were gone.

On further thought, perhaps the rock statues were also meant as reminders that each and every one of us is a unique and precarious sculpture put on Earth for only a very brief time. It doesn’t matter whether we’re tall and thin or short and round or peaceable or defiant. We’re all just pebbles standing against immeasurable forces that will, without fail, sweep us away either sooner or later.

Perhaps someone somewhere sometime will look back with fondness at the peculiar sculpture that I once was.

But, if not, that’s okay.

I was put on Earth to stand for a moment then be swept away and lost within an all-powerful and timeless flow. I am who I am because of my destiny as a child of God; a destiny that I joyfully embrace.

We each make our own path

We Each Make Our Own Path

May 2017

Several weeks ago, as I was listening to NPR on my car radio, I caught part of a debate on the meaning of Robert Frost’s much-loved poem, “The Road Not Taken.” Apparently, English majors have been debating for decades whether or not the traveler in the poem purposely took the path ‘less traveled by’ or, perhaps more correctly, whether the traveler could even tell which path was more or less traveled when deciding which way to proceed. It’s hard to know for sure when the poem, itself, is full of contradictions and as opaque as the yellow wood it describes.

I’ve encountered this poem many times over the years, as it has become an anthem for those of us who choose to live more or less offbeat, eccentric, unconventional lives. We wear our Road Less Traveled t-shirts as a badge of honor. And, why not? It’s part of the American way.

But, as someone who has lived much of her life mucking about on hiking trails, whether wooded or not, I don’t think choosing the way ‘less traveled’ is the main point of the poem. After all, the title of the poem is not “The Road Less Traveled” but rather “The Road Not Taken”—which is, to say, the road more traveled in this particular poem. To me, the poem delves far more deeply into a basic philosophy of life—a philosophy I like to think of as ‘just forge head and enjoy yourself’. Or perhaps better stated… ‘don’t be afraid to embrace adventure’. Maybe even: life, like poetry, shouldn’t be taken either too literally or too seriously.

Consider yourself the traveler in the poem, perhaps a hiker making your way along a wooded path. Suddenly, you come to a fork in the road. There is no trail sign—no way to tell which of the two similar looking paths is the main route or which is the ‘right’ path to take. I’ve been in this situation many times. Taking an unmarked path has led to some memorable adventures: seeing an unnamed waterfall or climbing a mountain peak or meeting an interesting fellow traveler who became a life-long friend. Other times—like when it’s starting to hail small boulders or I’m already running late for meeting my spouse at a pre-designated location— an unmarked fork can be reason for minor panic.

Note that the traveler in the poem doesn’t do what many a hiker, including yours truly, has done in countless such situations. He doesn’t mutter a curse about how poorly maintained the trail system is and resolve to write a letter of complaint that the route isn’t properly signed. He doesn’t pull out his handy-dandy GPS (all right, they probably didn’t have GPSs in Robert Frost’s days, but they certainly had compasses and maps) and diligently figure out which path to take. He doesn’t unpack  lunch, park his butt on a rock, and wait for someone to mosey down one of the paths and explain where it leads. He doesn’t turn back to the comfort of the well known path he just came from. Instead, he peers ahead a bit, shrugs his shoulders, opts for the path that looks a little greener and less heavily trodden, and then forges ahead. Once he realizes he’s not on a smooth, easy, popular route, he doesn’t turn around but rather embraces the joys and challenges of a road less traveled.

That attitude — ‘let’s explore this interesting looking path and enjoy wherever it takes us in life’ — is, to my mind, the main message of the poem. Let’s face it, no matter how well mapped out or heavily trodden or popular a given path may be, we never really know where it will take us. There are no clear signposts in life. When we come to an uncertain fork, we can panic, we can pull out all our maps and tools and try to intellect our way through, we can wait for someone else to come along and give us directions, we can turn back and run for the safety of the known… or, like the intrepid traveler in Robert Frost’s poem, we can forge ahead with a spirit of adventure. If we’re true to ourselves and perhaps a little bit lucky, we might just stumble upon a road less traveled. In any case, we should embrace it as the road we chose, whether deliberately or not.

By embracing life and treating it like the adventure it is, we will indeed have made all the difference—not just to ourselves but to everyone we know and love. Perhaps with that attitude, we can’t help but choose the path less traveled by.

And oh, what a great adventure it will be!

 

 

You can read The Road Not Taken BY ROBERT FROST at: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44272/the-road-not-taken