–Hold on by letting go.–
Toward the north end of Rabbit Lane, the ditch crosses the road through a 36-inch culvert pipe, where the water flows diagonally across Charley’s pasture in a shallow channel. Charley was losing too much water through the informal channel and decided to install a new culvert a hundred yards or so further south. He cut a new crossing in Rabbit Lane with his backhoe, dropped in a new section of black pipe, and backfilled around the pipe, restoring the road. The water now flowed directly west in a deeper channel following a fence line.
The ditch banks in this area were thick with willow bushes and Siberian Elm trees, and a whole section of the ditch vegetation was now deprived completely of water. I watched every day for these bushes and trees to begin to turn brown, for their growth to stunt. I was sure they would die. But as the weeks passed, I noticed no change in the vegetation. It seemed just as verdant and vibrant as it had before. The bed of dark, moist clay in the abandoned portion of the old irrigation ditch began to dry and crack, forming a string of small island mesas in the bottom of a deep, dry ditch-bank canyon. Still the bushes thrived.
* * *
I knew that one day Rabbit Lane would be paved with black-oil asphalt. I suppose it was inevitable. Though I dreaded that day, it finally came. The County government, in its wisdom, decided that my little country farm lane needed to be paved. Of course, the lane wasn’t mine at all. But I had claimed it and loved it and hoped for it. Over my rutted and pocked hard-pack gravel and dirt now stretched a ribbon of black. It began from Church Road and continued northward, meandering slightly, until it faded from sight. To me it seemed an unending ribbon of blackness, weighing heavily upon the world of nature and of my imagination, fouling the aromas of my romanticism, and covering the worm tracks and raccoon prints and aspiring greenery. It catapulted me from my attachment to things past and slammed me into the ever-insistent present of progress and improvement.
With every step along the new road, the darkness of disappointment pressed in upon me, reminding me of the other black lines and splotches in my life, in all lives. I didn’t appreciate the reminder. Such reminders are ubiquitous in the comings and goings in life. I needed Rabbit Lane to help me slowly lighten the dark things, to gently heal the wounded places, to fill my eyes and nose and ears with the simple delights of the natural world. I hoped, with utter naiveté, that Rabbit Lane would stay the same, forever. Like everything else in life, Rabbit Lane changed.
Unlike most new roads, the pavement left Rabbit Lane anything but new. The asphalt, instead of a freshly-blended oil-infused hot mix, evenly and smoothly laid, consisted of rough regurgitated remnants from some other county road demolition project. The asphalt on that other road had been roto-milled, trucked out, and dumped into a heap somewhere, then brought to Rabbit Lane, spread out, and steam rolled, what they call a cold mix. The new road consisted of the other road’s bony remains over which bicycles bounce and cars bump and upon which my booted toe is stubbed. Hardly a resurrection, Rabbit Lane now resembled a mass grave. Angular pieces poked up everywhere, making the road rougher than the gravel washboard had ever been. Lengthy sections were so dry and devoid of oil that they quickly crumbled into brown asphalt dust. In some areas, lane-line yellow rose to the surface, small yellow patches pointing in all directions at odds with their former life of guiding travelers safely to their destinations. The County had found a cheap, convenient use for its mountains of road waste in covering up the old-fashioned, perhaps out-of-fashion, dirt and gravel. Laying down the old asphalt would spare the County the cost of maintaining the dirt road. I knew better: the cost of an occasional grader and a few dump truck loads of fresh gravel would be far less than the cost of crack sealing, slurry sealing, and chip sealing. The County, however, found an easy way to save money by simply not maintaining the asphalted Rabbit Lane at all.
My morning walk on Rabbit Lane. A dead Katydid lies on the desiccated asphalt, a puddle of faded green in a hard gray world. Robin’s egg fell from its high Cottonwood nest, a splash of cracked sky-blue on black.
Like the “new” asphalt, my feelings settled somewhat with the passing weeks and months. Not that time was healing any wounds. I’m not convinced that time heals wounds at all; rather, time merely dims their pain with the buffering and diluting effect of the emotions and impressions of relentless streams of experience. Healing is a mystery that involves the inner power of personal choice together with the subtle influences of the Divine. Beneath the ragged pavement, I began to sense a faint stirring, as if the soft breathing of untroubled sleep. Water still trickled in the ditch. Passerines still flitted through the willow bushes. Virginia Creeper still climbed Russian Olive trunks, turning deep scarlet in Fall. The sun still rose and set, while the foot travelled dirt remained faithfully beneath a shallow covering of old asphalt. Rabbit Lane was still there, and I needed to be, too.
* * *
After nearly a week in bed, I had to get out of the house. The infection in my lungs, throat, and sinuses had left me weak and despondent. The February weather was obliging, but I still wore a winter coat against lingering chills. Four of the children came with me, Laura (12), John (10), Caleb (8), and Hyrum (6).
The three boys wanted to ride their bicycles. But Hyrum’s flat tire first needed repair. John had tried, but one axle nut was stuck. I showed him the vice grips, and we had the tire off quickly. Hyrum helped me pump up the inner tube, immerse it in water, and spot the two bubble fountains. We circled each hole with blue ball-point pen, dried the tube, drained the air, and applied the rubber cement and patches. In minutes we were on the road.
We stopped at Ron’s old place to hunt for rusty treasures. Ron had told us we could take whatever we found laying around. The children found an old file, a pulley wheel, a cattle brand handle, and a blue power line insulator. Caching their treasures behind a tree, we resumed our walk.
I dragged myself down Rabbit Lane, feeling so tired. Infection had sapped my strength. The “new” asphalt was showing signs of heavy wear. Muddy pot holes had appeared where the asphalt was thinnest. I imagined the American pioneers pulling their wooden handcarts laden with meager belongings and scarce provisions. They pulled their carts across much rougher terrain, in much colder temperatures. What happened to their men when they contracted lung infections, when their coughing stabbed their chests with pain, when they would have preferred to rest on the couch until feeling a little stronger? They died, that’s what they did. Or they pressed on. My weakened condition, transported to their harsh conditions, would probably have seen my own death. But I live, thinking and writing about it, and resting on the couch.
At Witch’s Tree we turned back for home. Laura talked excitedly about the Cecropia cocoons she had ordered and that had just arrived, by mail. Seeing them, I remembered the first Cecropia cocoon I found in a New Jersey woods. Laura’s package included two fat dark-brown pupae sealed expertly inside silky dry leaves. She hoped they’d be male and female so they could mate and lay eggs that she could raise into more larvae, more pupae, more moths. She laid them carefully inside a dry aquarium, with strips of cloth the moths could climb up to reach the wire-screen cover. Hanging there, they would pump blood into the veins of their crumpled wet wings to stretch them out into their full, glorious size and decoration. She needn’t worry about feeding them—the moths don’t eat. They mate, lay eggs, fly around for a week or two, then die, having fulfilled their purpose. All the eating gets done by the thick green caterpillars. The adult moths emerge from metamorphosis to display their beauty and to ensure the next generation.
* * *
As part of Erin’s (8) home school work for the day, Angie had asked Erin to choose a Psalm from the Bible and copy a verse or two from it. Erin was angry at the assignment. When she finally gave in and did it, she picked a verse that mirrored her feelings: “O God whose vengeance . . . .”
* * *
For many years I have avoided using the word hate. I gradually came to notice that each time I exclaimed “I hate this!” came an accompanying momentary unpleasant sensation, as if sucking on candy dipped in vinegar. I began to wonder if hating something, or even just expressing hatred, might be a hurtful thing. I have come to believe that to hate something is to condemn it, to consign it to certain failure, to deprive it of any goodness or merit. So, while I allow myself to express distaste for something, I no longer condemn it with my hatred. Some things, I suppose, deserve to be hated. Perhaps murderers, or molesters, or mosquitoes. But hatred is a feeling that I create, that I hold on to, that I radiate. Hatred hurts me and those around me without changing the character of the thing hated.
* * *
Why is it so hard to fulfill the hopes and dreams that pull at our hearts and occupy our minds? Aspiration seems to have opposition as its companion. Hopes and dreams imply a becoming, a process of moving from here to there across rough spiritual terrain that seems to have no care for the traveler. The bigger the dream, the longer and rougher the journey. The longer and rougher the journey, the more fatiguing the effort. It is the dream, perhaps, that determines the roughness of the road. And it is the roughness of the road, likely, that shapes the dream. As we walk and climb and struggle, the dream shifts and morphs. Upon achieving and embracing the destination—the dream—we discover that the dream is in fact a mere milestone along a much longer path, with more glorious objectives ahead, a path that ends only at life’s end. And then we will discover that the road has not ended at the opaque wall of death, but that the wall has faded into a cloudy curtain and that the road continues beyond this fragile barrier to new adventures and new achievements.
* * *
I asked Erin (10) on a Saturday afternoon if we could talk. She agreed, and we began walking together toward Rabbit Lane. We talked about things she was learning and feeling, the ways she was growing and struggling, the things she wanted to do and dreamed to do, her hopes and her fears. She wanted so badly to grow up, to be 12 years old and to do what 12-year-olds do. Arriving at home, we sat on an old 2×12 spanning two log stumps. I suggested that if she were to become 12 right now, she’d miss being 10 and 11 and all the wonderful things that go along with being 10 and 11. I promised her that being 12 years old would come very soon, as would 13, and 14, and 18, and 25. She just couldn’t see it yet. I encouraged her to try her best to not look too far into the future, but to enjoy her present life, the age she was, and the things she was doing.
All too often in my life I have found myself thinking too far into the future. For example, I rationalize that life will be simpler when the children are grown and on their own, or when I retire. You fill in the blank: if I could just . . . then I’d be happier. But fantasizing about the future, or “futuring,” only increases the disparity between what we want and what we have, between who we want to be and who we are. Futuring adds to our distress and unhappiness. I am not saying that we shouldn’t dream. We should look into the future to see where we want to be, and make a plan for getting there. But while we aim for the future, we must live in the present. We must be here and now. While we can build upon the past and plan for the future, the present is our reality.
* * *
Our country house near Rabbit Lane was our dream come true. We had worked for it, saved for it, searched for it, longed for it. Not many weeks after moving in, however, the smell of new paint faded, the carpet suffered its first stains, and we all became accustomed to our rooms. It seemed that in the move to the new house our personal struggles had stowed away and also made the journey. I woke up one morning to find that the house was just a house.
It may feel disappointing, but there is no such thing as a dream home. There is no perfect physique. There is no ideal climate. The dream house never has enough storage space or a big enough laundry room, and the closets are always too small. The perfect physique yields to age and illness and DNA, every time. The ideal climate still presents days that are too cold or too hot or too humid, and always brings bugs.
We may think that we have achieved the ideal something-or-other. But soon after capturing it, we realize that it has faded from its idyllic quality to mere routine, sometimes monotonous and even boring.
This is not to say that we should not dream.
I once believed that dreams were better left unrealized. It seemed to me that in accomplishing a dream, it ceased to be a dream of the future, becoming instead a reality of the present, flowing quickly into the past. The fulfilled dream had disappeared, leaving in its place a sense of emptiness and disappointment rather than fulfillment.
But some years later I decided to abandon this cynical view, realizing the importance of having a dream. To be complete and fulfilled individuals, we absolutely must dream. Dreams are what enable and ennoble us to increase our capacities and to improve ourselves and our communities. I say that we must dream. We must strive to be better tomorrow than we were today. At the same time, we must balance that striving for tomorrow with a contentment for today. We can make a better tomorrow without condemning today.
* * *
Caleb (3) ran into our room late one night, crying, “A crocodile is chasing me!” I sat up in bed, bleary-eyed, and pulled him to me.
“Don’t worry,” I pronounced, “I’ll catch him, and bite him.”
He looked at me wide-eyed and asked, “On the tail?”
“Yea,” I bragged, sleepily. “On the tail!”
He rejoined, “And I’ll bite him on the toe!”
Suddenly equals in the same cause, I said, “OK. We’ll get him. No more crocs.”
Then I pulled him into bed with us and he went right to sleep.
* * *
Angie learned one night in July that a friend and neighbor was pregnant, the baby due in November. Angie’s baby was also to have been born in November, but the May miscarriage ended that hope. With the neighbor’s news, her heartache and emptiness returned with full force, and she lay in bed weeping by my side.
Earlier in the day, Caleb (4) had said to her, “Your baby is in heaven, huh Mamma. I’m sorry your baby died, Mamma.”
Angie responded, “It sounds like you’re sad about it, too, Caleb.”
“Yea,” Caleb nodded, “because if it had been a boy we could have named him Archimedes.”
This brought a smile to Angie’s grieving face. She had read to the children earlier in the week about Archimedes, the Greek scientist and mathematician after whom Caleb had hoped to name a little brother.