I have thought much since January how life is tentative. I have known abstractly the brevity of life – how war extinguishes breath, the soldier and civilian’s; how famine weakens and illness encroaches; how epidemics — smallpox, tuberculosis, yellow fever, and cholera —sweep aside generations in their path. Polio was the childhood fear of my mother. Tuberculosis haunted the dreams of her father.
I walk these mid-summer days with my camera. I pause at the persistent calling of a bird. I lean-in to understand the petals of a flower. I brake my bike to watch a fawn peering through tall grass and clover.
I remain between two places — my childhood home of Illinois and my home in northwestern Minnesota. My mother’s illness and passing has strengthened family relationships. My mother is gone, but I am loved by those who remain. New people have come into my life. Ideas are shared. Questions are posed. Thoughts are explored. I travel back to Illinois now to attend to details of my mother’s death. I travel home again to resume a life begun in adulthood. I return to a place I know well, a place I expect my own journey will end.
Beyond this final house
I’ll make no journeys, that is
the nature of this place,
I came here old; the house contains
the shade of its walls,
a fire in winter; I know
from what direction to expect the wind;
I move in the descent
of days from what was dreamed
to what remains. — Wendell Berry
Each morning, I collect myself. Habit pulls my bike from the shed or ties the laces of my running shoes. On weekends I disappear for long stretches with my backpack and camera. I cannot concentrate on books; I cannot quiet my mind except in the solitude of space. I ask, “Where is my God?” My father often said, “I find more God on a walk in the woods than on a pew in a church.” And so, too, I walk.
I have thought much since January how tentative life is. I know firsthand the brevity of life. When will joy return, I ask. I cross the open field. I kick up dust along the gravel road. I lean-in to see. I pause to listen. I stop to watch. I walk.
Berry, Wendell. “Boone.” Collected Poems: 1957-1982, 7, 8. North Point Press, 1987.