Sunday, May 10, 2020

Footprints in the Wilderness: The Calling

It happened on Sunday, May 10, 2020, at around 2:15PM.

It was a peaceful afternoon nap.  I dreamed I was back in the house I grew up in—the one on seven acres along White Clay Creek - the place we called Meadowcreek.  I had lived there between 1958, when it was built, and 1966 when I went off to college.

The house was empty now.  Everybody who lived there but me has passed on.  The house itself has passed on, with only its deepest bones remaining as part of a total rebuild and expansion.

Only me and the old bones.  It was a lonely place.  Sad, and yet somehow full of peace.  Everything had settled.

It was dusk inside my dream.  A strange hazy dimness hung in the air, like the light coming in under a thunder cloud at sunset.  Outside, far away down in the meadow, kids and young folk were hanging out beside the noisy creek, living their strange sort of 'game-lives', the way kids do, half of it virtual.  They were on a different wavelength.

Even in the dream I was lying in bed dreaming.  Not even in my own bed.  This hadn't been my house for more than fifty years.

'Ding-dong.' The doorbell rang.

How could that be?  The electricity was off.  Only the dim twilight outside provided a little light.

Jolted from a sound sleep, I hurried to yank on a pair of shorts.  Dream shorts, of course.  I couldn't get my legs through.  Finally, I pulled them on and ran to the door, still snapping them, pulling up the zipper.

Who could be there?  Who even knew I was here?  The young folk out in the meadow below weren't interested in this old ghost of a place or anybody in it.

I opened the door to find … well, Tolkien would have called it an Ent.  An animated tree, a creature older than time, full of deep wisdom and memory, with a big old snout, like a proboscis, covered in moss and lichen.

"What do you want ..." he said before I could spill the words myself.  

"I ..."

"Tell me.  What do you want to be?"

"Be?"  My life was in kind of a transition.  I needed to decide what was next - what I wanted to do with myself now that I had finished hiking to every place I'd ever lived, including this one, the only one of the twenty-one that had been torn down and survived only as a memory.

"Do?" the old spirit harrumphed.  He was reading my mind.  "Then why am I here?  Doing is what those youngsters are about.  Doing is putting off being.  What do you want to be, old man?"

"What is there left to be?" I answered his question with a question, thinking that was a pretty clever dodge.

He sort-of posed before me, his eyes opening slightly wider, spreading his bony, leafy, twiggy hands outward, just slightly.  He didn't have to say a thing--the body language said it: "I'm here.  Being has brought me here. You brought me here.  So, isn't this what you want to be, really, when you get right down to it?"

"No." I said, sure of my answer.  "I don't want to knock on people's doors."

"Ha. Got me.  Well … then what?"

"But I do love where you come from.  You're a spirit from a world before humans, pristine, natural.  A face of the forest, a voice for nature.  All the places that I love are reflected in those deep brown eyes," I said.  "The wilderness."

He barely nodded, waiting.

"So … I want to be that.  The wilderness.  A tempting rocky summit, a canyon that twists away into mystery.  A moss-covered boulder deep in a green misty glen beside a waterfall.  Or endless miles of lonely beach under the great dome of the firmament, surrounded by surf, wind, salt, sky, rain."  Then a thought struck me, and I blurted "I want to be footprints - the footprints that lead to those wild places."

"Footprints?  Mmmmm … A path to follow, perhaps.  For those who come after?"

"Not even that.  Just the knowledge that such a path is out there -- a way that can lead folk back into the wild, a way that is peaceful and comforting, full of enrichment, understanding.  Joy."

"I like it.  Yes, that ought to do nicely."

"You mean be, don't you?"

He laughed.  His delight vibrated out like ripples on a pond, pushing back the twilight gloom, surrounding us with a glowing cocoon of warmth.

"Are you ready, then?" he asked, turning to go, eyes fixed on me expectantly.

Behind me stood an empty, silent house, built of no substance, containing nothing that I needed to bring with me.

"I am more than ready, sir.  Let's be off."

… and two sets of footprints dissolve into the wilderness …

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