–The Milkweed will push through to grow tall, fragrant, and beautiful, to call the Monarch.–
The disc cushioning my lumbar 4 and 5 vertebrae has been bulging capriciously since I was 12 years old. It was then that I experienced my first unexpected spine-twisting spasms that paralyzed me sitting in my church pew. A bulging disc means a frequently aching back, with locked joints and tense muscles. The pain is always different depending on which way the disc is bulging and, more importantly, which area of the spinal nerves the disc is irritating. While it becomes difficult and painful to bend, I somehow always manage to dry my feet after a shower, to shimmy on my socks, to tie my shoes, and to drive to work, even if I do have to lie occasionally on the floor during the mayor’s staff meeting.
One morning, every forward step with my right foot triggered stabbing back and leg pain, and my bowels and back burned intensely with each deep breath. Slowly, as I walked, the tightness began to ease and I could walk and breathe more comfortably. Despite the pain, I was still able to enjoy the early morning peace of my surroundings on Rabbit Lane.
Limping slightly, I noticed a car turn onto the dirt road, its headlights glaring in the dawn. As the car approached, I began to emphasize my limp, just in case the driver was, coincidentally . . . and it was. Though I had never seen him on Rabbit Lane before, now I saw my chiropractor, Glenn, driving slowly by, taking his son to high school. Recognizing me, he grinned his hello and waved. I made sure my face showed the pain I was in as I grimaced and waved back.
I had just seen Glenn the day before, in some desperation, and was seeing him again the following day. I didn’t want him to think that I was moaning on his table one day and doing triathlons the next. Not that I was doing a triathlon, or could have done a triathlon. My back did hurt, I rationalized, and part of the limp was genuine.
Of course, Glenn wasn’t worried about what I was worried about. He was only worried about me feeling better. I, on the other hand, was worried about what he was thinking about me. But I needn’t have worried about his perceptions. Why did I worry in the first place? Should it matter what he thought about me? Of course not. What counted was what I thought about myself. I was happy to be walking at all, happy that I managed to roll out of bed early enough to walk, happy that I could tie my shoes. I was doing my best to take care of myself, and that was enough.
* * *
At about three-quarters of a mile long, Rabbit Lane can be driven in just 90 seconds, at an undisclosed speed. At this speed, however, the driver risks flattened tires, broken axels, wheel dis-alignments, and cracked teeth, not to mention missing every virtue revealed only at much slower speeds. I have found a slow walk to be the best speed for traveling Rabbit Lane.
The grains of sand in my shoe irritate me terribly as I walk on Rabbit Lane. I feel annoyed at having to stop, sit down on the dirt, take off my boot and sock, clean each thoroughly, then put them back on to resume walking. Sometimes I decide to resist my normal compulsion to remove all discomfort, all distraction, and to learn to go on in spite of the pebble. Rarely, I begin not to notice the irritation, or am able to diminish its importance, to keep the tiny grain in perspective. After all, it is not crippling me, or even paining me, just annoying me. It may be too obvious to point out, but life is full of events and notions that distract me from who I really am or want to be, from where I really want to go and what I really want to do. Many of these are merely annoying; some are quite painful. So, it is up to me to decide what kind of pearl will my life make of me. Will I be flaky, fractured, lumpy, or stained? Or will I be whole, having learned to live with my annoyances and disappointments and pains? It is comforting to me that we can all become pearls, and more so that God is no respecter of pearls, valuing each alike.
At the edges of Rabbit Lane, budding, volcano-like peaks pock the hard-packed clay and gravel. Emerging from the peaks are tiny slivers of green from seedling weeds that push persistently up to reach the light. Though the sprouts are tender and soft, still they possess the power to slowly displace the infinitely harder compacted earthen road.
One summer day I awoke to the noise of a heavy diesel engine belching over its labors near Rabbit Lane. Driving past the lane on my way to work, I saw a giant, rusty grader scraping away stands of flowering Milkweed and Sunflower, white-topped Parsnip, and Willow bushes that thrive along the edge of the road above the irrigation ditch. They have formed a green and living border at the edge of the water as it trickles through the Watercress. On my way home from work later that day I saw that new dirt and gravel had been brought in and steamrolled to fill the ruts and potholes. Tons of gravel have been shaped to form a bermed bank above the ditch, replacing the vegetation.
As much as the potholes were a nuisance to drivers, my children have loved riding their bicycles into the holes and popping wheelies on the other side. As a walker, I had come to enjoy the puddles, thinking of them as eyes in the earth looking toward the heavens, reflecting the blue skies of day and the starry skies of night. To me the road has seemed somehow alive, with pulse and personality. Now the road is blind, filled in and covered over. After maturing for many years, it has again become a mere thing to be used, trodden upon, driven over, instead of part of the history and landscape, instead of a companion to the farms and fields, to the flowing water and waving trees, to the Milkweed blossoms and Sunflowers. Perhaps I am selfish in wanting the road to remain as it was for my pedestrian purposes in the face of the need for a more utilitarian street for cars and trucks. But whether I walk on the road or not, its nature has changed, its character covered over, its memory dimmed.
I knew, then more than ever, that someday Rabbit Lane would be paved over with a steaming strip of burning black asphalt. I knew that I would lament that day and would see the glistening blackness as a shroud upon the once living road. It is only a matter of time. The ditch will be dredged and piped, the long line of trees removed, and a full road paved and striped. The Muskrats will expire in their collapsed burrows. The owls will fly away and not return. The Mallards will find wilder wetlands. The haunting echo of the Snipe’s winged acrobatics will no longer float over the ground-creeping fog at twilight. The farms and fields will be carved into five-acre mega slices of the American dream that brokers market cleverly as ranchettes. Mostly they will be five-acre weed patches.
And again ..I was walking at your side taking that journey with you down Rabbit Lane, bringing back memories of all those times that I have done the same thing all those years that I lived and worked in that proximity just across the road. Long before even Ron and Mary Norris lived in..and reared their family in that little home there on that corner.
And then came the shift in my being as you described the present and future happenings taking place there. But I can’t allow sadness to overcome the happy memories you first described.
Then there is the picture of “Cracky Daves” old Ford Station Wagon that he used to get him up to “Hen’s” on the corner of Erda Way and the highway and to a few other similar places around the county. A gentle soul well liked by one and all.
God bless you Rog ,you’re worth your weight in gold, and then some.
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I know that some of what I write triggers sadness. That’s because our travels through time bring change and loss. But it is often through change and loss that we grow and find, as you have done, Harvey.
Roger, I think I shall never be able to look at potholes the same way after tonight. I have spent my career trying to “blind” them in order to satisfy the demands for smooth roads in urban settings. Thank you again for reminding me to take time to slow down and take notice of the beauty of small and simple things.
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Everything has its time, place, and season, both potholes and smooth roads.
You have placed your finger upon the pulsing life force in both man and nature; our similarities and our differences.
Rabbit Lane changes along with us as time marches on and modern society thinks they are improving this rutted dirt road.
The changes are in reverse between Rabbit Lane and eventually all natural areas as modern machinery removes the pot-holes and “beautifies” it with a brand new, clean black surface with a beautiful golden stripe running down it’s center while mankind ages differently. Our brand new, string and resilient vessels that carry us perfectly in youth gradually take on the marks of the old, potted roads as we age.
It will be a very sad day if and when the gold stripe is painted down Rabbit Lane (maybe it already is and we haven’t gotten to that yet).
I could feel your acute pain in your spine and the subtler pain in your socks.
I admire you carrying on in spite of both of these annoyances. It’s so inspiring, I want to rise up early and go find my Rabbit Lane.
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Mary! I am so happy to read your last few words. One of the closing thoughts of my book, more than 20 chapters distant, is that we can all find our own Rabbit Lane, wherever we live. We can even find Rabbit Lane inside our heart and mind and soul–if we look for it. That is where we will find peace and beauty. Well done.
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