Fireflies are out in full force this evening…winking in and out of existence on this last day of May. The moon is hanging high…and silently… in the clear, darkening sky. It’s Summer’s eve again…another year gone by. Last night I awoke to coyotes howling and baying in the moonlight…a very lonely and eerie sound that made my skin tingle. I’ve never seen them…but I know they’re out there. I’m strangely comforted by their presence…and I also know that Belle is quietly…and alertly…listening to these plaintive…and in some way vaguely familiar… voices in the night.
“Possibility is the secret heart of time. On its outer surface time is vulnerable to transience. Regardless of its sadness or beauty, each day empties and vanishes. In its deeper heart, time is transfiguration. Time minds possibility and makes sure that nothing is lost or forgotten. That which seems to pass away on the surface of time is in fact transfigured and housed in the tabernacle of memory.”
~ John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom
…the path that we are on? I seem to be in a walking frame of mind since returning from my hike in the Appalachians. We’re willing to walk miles to catch a glimpse of something we think is worth seeing. And then…having seen it, begin again. What is this way that we wander?
Wanderer, your footsteps are
the road, and nothing more;
wanderer, there is no road,
the road is made by walking.
By walking one makes the road,
and upon glancing back
one sees the path
that must never be trod again.
Wanderer, there is no road–
Only wakes upon the sea.
~ Antonio Machado
Pondering such topics as time…and where it eventually might lead to…can put one into a melancholy funk. We tend to run away as fast as we can…with the usual distractions. But…I think it’s a funk that needs to be faced…perhaps in silence…and in solitude…if we really wish to value and appreciate the life we’ve been given in this extraordinary world…and the people with whom we share it. This day…another step on our way. And it’s humbling to think that we may be the keepers of time, as O’Donohue says…within the tabernacles of our memories.
Time, flowing like a river
Time, beckoning me
Who knows when we shall meet again
Keeps flowing like a river
To the sea…
Till it’s gone forever
~ The Alan Parsons Project, Time
I have to admit it…the last few weeks have been mentally challenging. In the past, every time I would pull up to the house and lock the car…a distinctive beep would sound as the alarm was set. This would usually signal the dogs inside that I was home…and they would start barking in unison…in anticipation. Belle still does…but now it always makes me think of who’s missing.
I’ve had this nagging voice in my head lately…”Get thee to a mountain!” So…I listened…and set off early this morning for Caesars Head State Park, in the Southern Appalachians in upstate South Carolina. A three hour drive to the Blue Ridge Escarpment, where the mountains meet the Piedmont. I set off in silence…with only an occasional comment from Molly (my Garmin GPS). It was about an hour down the road, when my mind started to settle down. I imagined all of the incessant thoughts and concerns just flaking off in the wind…left behind in my wake as I looked in the rear-view mirror. The mountains were starting to exert their calming influence…their ancient stability.
At one point though…Molly suddenly spoke up…seemingly flustered at something.
Glancing at the GPS…I noticed that we were in the middle of some vast, white, featureless plain, with no roads in sight. Molly seemed quite frantic as she tried to get her bearings…and we finally drifted back onto the road we had been travelling. I wrote it off to sunspots, or a solar flare…interfering with Molly’s advisers up high in Earth orbit. But then I thought of Molly’s previous life…and hoped old bad habits weren’t reappearing.
I did make it safely up to Caesars Head…and the view from the overlook at the top was spectacular…with Table Rock off in the distance, and a lush green forest far below.
After checking in at the visitor’s center to get directions to the Raven Cliff Falls trail, I drove down the road to the trail head and parked the car. My plan was to view these falls, which have a height of about 420 feet, and which are one of the highest waterfalls in the East. I casually donned my day pack, in which I had packed a light lunch…monk’s fare of one hard-boiled egg, and some cheese and hummus on rye bread, and I set off down the trail. I found the first mile a bit strenuous…until I came to a fork in the trail…and discovered I was on the wrong trail. So much for my hiking skills. I made my way back to the parking lot…a bit red-faced (thankfully I didn’t have to explain myself to anybody).
Back at the trail head…I set off in earnest down the proper path, being sure to make careful note of the red blazes on the occasional tree that marked the Raven Cliff Falls trail. It was 2.2 miles to the falls overlook…going down…and then going up…huffing and puffing along the way. It seemed never-ending at times…but I pressed on. I was rewarded along the way…seeing Pinkshell Azaleas in bloom (they actually belong to the Rhododendron family…Rhododendron vaseyi). They’re a species endemic to a small area just across the border in North Carolina, but they seem to have made their way into South Carolina as well.
After much trial and tribulation (for me anyway)…I finally made it to the overlook, and got a glimpse of the falls. They were still about a quarter-mile or more away, but still impressive. My picture doesn’t do the falls justice…but they’re in there somewhere.
To actually get to the falls, one has to descend the Dismal Trail (didn’t like the sound of that) a further 1200 feet (which means ascending 1200 feet on the way back). Maybe next time…or perhaps in another life. I did manage to do about 400 feet of elevation, and about 6.5 miles (including my 2 mile mistake)…and I’m quite proud of that…even though my body feels somewhat broken at the moment…and I can’t wait to fall into bed.
It was 48 degrees this morning when I woke up. Not many more…if any…of these cool nights left. Making the best of this glorious, late Spring day, I took a walk down the road. I could now understand why I had not seen the sentinel rock until this past winter. The trees, and other scrubby vegetation on top of it, and surrounding it…left it in very dark shadows. If I didn’t know it was there, I would be oblivious to that massive hulk of a boulder lurking just off the roadside. But now I know where it lives…and it’s become a somewhat reassuring presence. Something that will outlive me.
Driving down the road the last few days, I had noticed some pinkish blooms, tangled among the trees and bushes. That was my mission this morning…to discover exactly what they were…to help fill in my mental map of my little corner of the Waxhaw woods. When I found them, it was immediately apparent from the thorns that they were wild roses. My best guess…is Rosa Virginiana, which is native to the Eastern United States, and which tolerates clay (much of the soil around these parts is reddish and very clayey).
Earlier this morning, sitting out on the front porch with Belle, in the chilly air, I heard a bird that I’ve been trying to identify. I grabbed my binoculars and spotted it at the very top of the tallest Sweet Gum tree (it must be about 70 feet high…with what I’m guessing is a spectacular view of the area). The dark head, white breast, and reddish sides confirmed my suspicions. It was an Eastern Towhee. I remembered this bird as the Rufous-sided Towhee back in Illinois, but the voice is somewhat different here in the East…which led to some confusion. Even though now, I think, it’s considered the same species. I am discovering, though, that there seem to be geographical variants in the voices and calls of many birds.
My ‘day of discovery’ was capped this afternoon when I went out on the back porch to water my vegetable garden…which consists of one containerized cherry tomato plant that was purchased at Home Depot. It’s doing very well…even has some little green tomatoes already. As I was watering…something caught my eye. A little head sticking under the railing. It was a kitten…followed by three more. They clambered up on to the deck looking pretty pathetic and probably very hungry. I went inside to get a dish of water, and filled up a little dish with some dry dog food (hopefully…that’s ok for cats? We once had a cat for a very brief time…NEO was his name…short for Near Earth Object. But that’s another story). They attacked the food like there was no tomorrow…which for them, sadly, may be the case. They’re most likely feral cats…but they are very cute. Hopefully…they’ll wander away and find a good owner. But…I may end up buying some cat kibble…just in case.
Evening. Another storm approaching from the southwest. The sky…prematurely dark…and grey. Colors drained from the trees. Gloom. The sound of sporadic, metallic drops on the chimney vent signal the arrival of the rain. Then…the soft…steady patter of rain on the roof begins.
Sitting in my chair in the darkness with a cup of tea cradled in my hands…listening to the muffled sound of thunder tunneling through the atmosphere…on the heels of ghostly, white hot flashes high above. The world is softly exploding around me…being baptized once again. A baptism of water…and of fire.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
~ from The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost
Early this morning…at the end of that dim path…I saw what I had missed last year. The endangered Rocky Shoals Spider Lilies in full bloom on the Catawba River, at Landsford Canal State Park in South Carolina. It was truly a sight for tired eyes…
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things pass away:
God never changes.
~ Teresa of Avila
It’s gotten a lot quieter around here the last few days. After an unexpected…and extremely short illness…Tinker (one of my two Pomeranians) died Tuesday night after having surgery. It’s left me quite flummoxed…and has…again…renewed my intense awareness of how transitory and ephemeral life really is. Last week at this time…she was spinning…whirling around, anticipating a little treat…with eyes open wide in simple pleasure. Now…there’s just…silence. I’ve even noticed Belle looking around…staring at nothing in particular…as if trying to recall something…or someone… that might be missing. Something not quite right with her surroundings.
There is a veil before our eyes…seemingly impenetrable at the moment. All thing pass away…bad things that we have to endure for a while…as well as good things that we hope will never end. Only God…the very ground of our being…endures…and only in Him, do we have hope.