On Finding an Abiding Strangeness

Mom and Dad first took my brother and I to Yellowstone when he was eight and I, twelve, to show us a world away from our little town but the showing began long before we packed the car and went west.

When I was young we lived for a short time on my grandparents’ farm. One afternoon we walked into the timber and down the hill, where I discovered a canvas monstrosity of a tent and pop cooling in the creek. That night we had adventure, complete with fire and pop in glass bottles. By morning both the fire and pop were gone, but adventure remained in the form of rain, so Dad carried me up the hill and Mom walked beside us, carrying my brother. They took us home.

While I often write about experiences in far-flung places, these tales are born from a small but significant portion of my life, the part spent walking in the woods and in the West. The habits from which that life springs began far from any mountain. The hiking and biking and canoeing began as walks in the neighborhood and in the timber, as drives on Sundays and forays into camping. It started at home.

According to CS Lewis, “No man would find an abiding strangeness on the Moon unless he were the sort who could find it in his own back garden.” My parents took us to the back garden. Then they took us beyond.

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Last spring our pond became home to a pair of nesting geese. We are who we are, so we talked about names. Because we were reading tales of King Arthur, the girls proposed Arthur and Guinevere. Because they nested near a favored fishing spot directly under the zip line, our son preferred Free and Loader.    

We waited for the eggs to hatch; our binoculars intruding into the privacy of their nest. They were swimming across the pond behind their parents within a day of hatching.  Quite contentedly, we thought.  Except that they got out of the pond and waddled away. We wanted to label them an ungrateful lot, but it was probably because of the cats.

J and I once saw a bald eagle in flight over the Firehole River in Yellowstone. We pulled the snowmobiles over, took off our helmets, and watched it soar against the cloudless blue.  Occasionally it would dive for a fish and retreat to a tree before beginning its soaring again. We left first, probably because of the clock. Perhaps we were the ungrateful ones.

I wish that wasn’t so.

When deer appear in our backyard, family is summoned from all over the house. Often I just want to keep doing whatever Important Work I am doing and not steal toward the wall of windows to see the deer without letting it see me. Is a deer in my own back yard really that much less exciting than an elk or a moose that I will park the car and get out for in Yellowstone? No.

I just don’t want to stop.

 

 

2005 , pearl lake 120 - Version 2 When I was young I didn’t understand that it was hard for my parents to stop. They had jobs and lawns and church. Now I know. It wasn’t easy to put it aside for the week and do something different with us. I’ve learned something else: The world won’t stop for us. We have to stop  it ourselves.

My parents shared with us a world both small and expansive. Is there something that you want to share with a child? Grandchild? Friend? Just because you haven’t yet doesn’t mean that you can’t. Tomorrow is a new day and a perfect time to begin.