Tag Archives: connections

Thoughts from the Road

I have been on the road. I visited my 95-year-old mother late last week. Found her much as in other recent visits, a little weaker each time, but not dramatically so. A few days later, I got a 4 am call from her nursing home that she had just passed away.

Until age 90, she had been unusually active and healthy. Disgustingly so, we might say in jest. No prescription medications. Living on her own. Driving. Visiting the less fortunate shut-ins of her church. Not so healthy in recent years, she had spent the last three in the nursing home. Vision problems deprived her of her beloved reading. Hearing problems made conversation difficult and TV impossible (although, aside from Jeopardy, she had never had much use for that medium). The joys of life were increasingly harder to find, and she had long been ready to meet her maker. For some time she’s been telling people she had awakened disappointed that God did not take her in the night. Yet she still continued to defy expectations.

When I would visit, I would take her a cup of coffee. The nursing home coffee was tepid and so weak that you could see the bottom of the cup. We would sit together, each sipping our McDonalds Senior Coffees. This last trip, I could not even do that. She was restricted to thickened beverages, and thickened coffee was intolerable. Her final illness was swift and merciful.

So I have made two round trips to North Carolina in a week. And while my travels were focused on my mother, this post is not really about her. I am not ready to do that yet. My travels did, however, generate some figurative side trips, and memories of some real ones, running through my head alongside the thoughts surrounding Mother’s death. The side trips, I can write about.

Side Trip #1: I listened to lots of political news on the radio as I drove. Senate hearings and other major drama. Abundant occasion for raised blood pressure. Sadness. Despair.

As I walked into the hotel early this week, the ubiquitous silent TV monitor showed a banner running along the bottom of the news channel: The president’s daughter is surprised at the vehemence of her father’s critics. Huh? Her father is vehemence-in-chief!! How can the reaction of his detractors be a surprise? It’s a basic biological reaction: fight attack with counter-attack!

Did you catch that? That I am part of the problem? My sarcastic response is vehemence and anger returned. I am truly fearful and angry at the president’s agenda and actions. If he succeeds, many will be hurt, including some in my immediate family. But what if he fails? If he fails, his many supporters will be presumably be angry and hurt (and fearful?). And that is the scariest part of all. I do not know how to relate to his supporters, and they do not know how to relate to me. No matter which side prevails, a large portion of our citizenry will be hurt and angry and left out. We—our country and our world—are in a deep bind. And I do not see any political leader with a vision for bridging that divide.

In Monday’s meditation, Richard Rohr wrote:

Don’t waste any time dividing the world into the good guys and the bad guys. Hold them both together in your own soul—where they are anyway—and you will have held together the whole world. You will have overcome the great divide in one place of spacious compassion. You, little you, will have paid the price of redemption. God takes it from there, replicating the same pattern in another conscious human life.

I wish I had that faith, and the wherewithal to “hold Trump and anti-Trump together in my own soul.” For now, it remains merely a hope. The only one I have to cling to.

Side Trip #2: On a lighter note: I am not a photographer. I’m not skilled at it, nor do I often even think of capturing an image or event until the opportunity is gone. I did not think to photograph the raccoon groping in Nancy’s frog pond in the middle of the night. I did not think to photograph the red-tailed hawk drinking from the pond early one morning. But the one I did think about—the one that would not have been able to escape before I grabbed my phone and pressed the shutter, the one that would have lifted the dark tone of this post toward a healthy chuckle—that one I saw on my travels this week. But I did not turn around, park on the shoulder, get out of my truck, cross traffic to the median, and take the shot. It was indeed an image worth many words. And since I did not take the photo, you will have to indulge my words. Imagine a tractor-trailer. The trailer is a fuel tanker. The rig is stalled, partially blocking the right-hand lane. It is surrounded by a protective row of orange cones. Emblazoned on the rear of the trailer is the company name: RELIABLE.

Side Trips Galore: Over the years, I have made that trip to North Carolina more than a hundred times. Four hours, one way, via I-40. And I have taken about every alternative route and side trip that I could find on the map. US 25/70 from Newport to Asheville via Hot Springs is an obvious diversion, and I had some especially great drives on its twists and turns when we owned the Miata. US 70 from Old Fort to Hickory is another great alternative, with good views across Lake James into the southern end of the Linville Gorge, interesting restaurants in Morganton, and the Burke County Courthouse, built just a few years after the hanging of Frankie Silver.

If you have the time and an urge for back country, descend the Blue Ridge escarpment from Ridgecrest (Exit 66) to Old Fort via Mill Creek Road, past the artificial Andrews Geyser, a 19th century railroad marketing ploy. For the more adventurous with a couple of hours to spend, make your way between the Harmon Den and Fines Creek exits (7 to 15) via the backroads.

In a hurry? There is still hope. Eastbound, past Newport, take the Wilton Springs exit (440) and follow the Hartford Road to Hartford, where you can re-enter I-40 (Exit 447). You will rarely be out of sight and sound of the interstate, but if you slow down and open the window, you can also hear the Pigeon River, which the road closely hugs. It will add less than ten minutes to your trip, maybe years to your life.

For some reason, I was recently thinking about the line from Tolkien, “Not all those who wander are lost,” and turning it around to say, “All who wander are not lost.” Is it not necessary to wander, to take the occasional side trip? And are these various side trips perhaps key to making sense of our path through life, and to making a positive and creative contribution as we pass through?

Threads

We were walking the dog, and I was telling Nancy about several ideas recently encountered and bouncing around in my head.

Item: Richard Rohr has been writing about liminality, sacred space. “We have to allow ourselves to be drawn out of ‘business as usual’ and remain patiently on the ‘threshold’ (limen, in Latin) where we are betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown. … That’s a good space where genuine newness can begin. Get there often and stay as long as you can by whatever means possible. … The threshold is God’s waiting room. Here we are taught openness and patience as we come to expect an appointment with the divine Doctor.” It dawns on me that the disciplines of The Artist’s Way (see my post on the reading fast), and all the contemplative disciplines, seek to put us into liminal space.

Item: In two recent “Almost-Daily eMo[s] from the Geranium Farm,” Barbara Crafton writes of the creative arts as openings into liminal space (without using the term). In response to the Mary and Martha story (Luke 10:38-42), she recalls that she and her brothers were intense readers, to the point of being called lazy. But she defends them as “honoring their Mary selves. … sitting quietly with our hearts somewhere else.” On another day, she cites the impact of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, the Walker Evans/James Agee collaboration illuminating the plight of Alabama sharecroppers in the Great Depression. She reports that David Simon, creator of the television series The Wire, writes, “Famous Men is the book that made me ashamed and proud to be a journalist-all in the same instant. Reading it made me grow up. Or at least, it demanded that I begin to grow up.”

DSC03034Item: I am pondering the role of reading in my life. For all its joys and its capacity to move me into sacred space, my reading fast illuminated for me how I often use reading not as a gateway but as a wall. Even after Nancy has opened for me the world of dragonflies and hummingbirds and frogs outside my dining room window, I am more likely to eat my lunch with a printed page or e-screen before me than to pay attention to the vibrant life just a few feet away. But it is not reading that is my problem. Rather, it is my underdeveloped disciplines of presence and attentiveness. As if to underscore the point, Nancy comments on how long it has been since she has seen “that pond” in operation. “That pond” is in front of the house we are walking past, a house I have walked past several times a week for many years. I have never noticed the pond.

All this and more is rattling around in my head, and I am trying to explain it all to Nancy as we walk.

“So,” I conclude, “I have all these threads and I don’t know what to do with them.”

“Weave,” she replies.

Here I sit with a lap full of threads. Ideas and ideals form the warp. My actions are the woof. I am trying to weave a life.

Views from Other Ridges

If you are a repeat visitor to this site, you may have noticed that the “header” at the top of the page (the wide photo) changes each time you navigate here or reload. The software randomly serves you one of the images we have designated for this space. And, if you have read our “ABOUT …” page, you know that the “view” of our title is a metaphorical one. We do live in a place of wonders, but we cannot see the ocean from East Tennessee, nor do we have horses in our neighborhood. Those headers are mementos of travels off our ridge.

So it is not cheating that the latest addition to our header images is a famous panoramic view some 400 miles northeast of us. In that view, we are standing in West Virginia. In the valley below, the Potomac River flows toward us and (out of sight below the photo) curves to the right below our overlook. Maryland is on the right side of the river. The distant mountains just visible on the right are in Pennsylvania. The view is famous; the photo is Nancy’s—one of those marvels of digital photography in which you slowly pan from left to right while the camera shoots rapid-fire stills and then stitches them together to form the panoramic image.

Potomac River from Cacapon Mountain, WV
Potomac River from Cacapon Mountain, WV

From that overlook off WV 9, west of Berkeley Springs, on the west slope of Cacapon Mountain, the diligent observer might catch glimpses of history. We are told that colonial partakers of the waters at Berkeley Springs, including George Washington, rode out to this same vista. And in the valley below, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad competed to link the Ohio Valley with the Atlantic ports. (Both began construction on Independence Day of 1828.) While we were standing at the overlook, a train of the B&O’s modern day successor (CSX) ran below us on the near side, on original right-of-way. Remnants of the C&O Canal (in commercial operation until 1924) still exist on the Maryland side of the river.

I knew nothing of this history when we set out that day. Arrested by the visual view, we stopped, read the roadside plaques, and stumbled onto another view—of history and geography and technology—of which I had been barely aware. That happens to me often. I have written earlier about the joy of filling in my terra incognita. But my incognita are not limited to terra. On a good day, and there are many, I am blessed with some new view, some new knowledge, some new insight. Travel is good for opening vistas. As are books.

It has been a good reading year. Favorite authors Ann Patchett, Barbara Kingsolver, Isabel Allende, and Charles Frazier, through books new to me and others read for the third time, have taken me to Haiti, Chile, Mexico, the Amazon, Napoleonic Spain, Colonial California, Congo, New Orleans, the Cherokee Nation, and the southern Appalachians, to the world of opera and the showmanship of magicians, to transcontinental migrations of species and the tortured home fronts of the American Civil War. Ken Follett took me to medieval Europe and on a breathtaking tour of the Twentieth Century’s follies; Robert Hicks back to the Civil War and New Orleans.

As I think about the vistas that I’ve encountered, I realize that newness is only part of the thrill—in fact, the lesser part. What most excites me and draws me farther in is the interconnectedness, the sense of unity.  What I see anew or afresh is part of a whole I’d perceived, and still perceive, only dimly. Other books, news stories, magazine articles, roadside plaques, random conversations, and other sources connect and re-connect to places and times and themes that are somewhat familiar and yet made more complete by the connection. The blank places on my map get filled in. And yet, in every case, new blanks appear. It turns out that not only is what I don’t know limitless, but what I don’t know about what I don’t know is also limitless. That is strangely exciting. There is still so much more to see!

Wrong Turn

Today, on an errand with Nancy, I made a turn one street too soon. Immediately, the Google Maps voice on her phone told me to turn around at the next left. But I was distracted. Distracted by my mistake and the police car nearby, but also by my surroundings.

I have always enjoyed exploring new roads. It’s like a cartoon from the ‘40s that perhaps I once saw or maybe just imagined. Picture it. An aerial view of an old jalopy rolling along a road. Mickey or Goofy at the wheel. In front of the car is only the outline of the road in a field of gray. Behind and to the sides of the car are green pastures and woodlands, colorful houses and scenery details. As the car rolls forward, so do the greenery and detail. That’s what a new road does for me. What was terra incognita gets filled in with colorful detail.

So I missed the turnaround. Nancy was patient; she knows (and shares) my exploring tendencies. A turn 100 yards too soon morphed into a four mile loop that took us from upscale suburbia through rural residential and then into the industrial backside of Knoxville. I filled in some more terra incognita. And it might be useful someday. For instance, if you need special sling rigging to move your nuclear reactor shielding, I can show you where to go.