Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.
“The Tables Turned” by William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
Near the house where I stay in Maine, there is a tree-lined dirt road that winds up, down, and around the bay below. The road is barely wide enough for two oncoming cars to scoot past each other. It is almost a mile long, and there are signs posted at either end of the road:
Pedestrians Dogs Bikes
When my grandchildren were very young, we loved to drive them around the curves (“Watch out, children! A car could come around the corner!”) and up and down the steep hills (“I must go very slowly; you never know what’s coming up this hill!”) They would squeal in delight and couldn’t wait for the next time we drove on what they eventually named ‘The Dangerous Road’.
This morning, I walked The Dangerous Road, not so much for exercise (although the hills do provide a good cardio boost), but for the unique sense of restoration and calm that walking this road provides for me.
Entering the road is like entering a cathedral. The leaves of towering trees – spruce, birch, white pine, oak – form an archway; sunlight filters through the high branches beckoning me forward. The ‘congregation’ of walkers, dogs (leashed), and occasional drivers seem to sense that speed has no place on this part of the earth.
The Dangerous Road was carved by a masterful hand. On one side an old forest rises sharply; on the other side, also forested, there are occasional peaks of Penobscot Bay, boats bobbing on their moorings far below.
I have walked this road for so many years that the ancient trees have become familiar landmarks. I’ve named one particularly sturdy oak ‘the stretching tree,’ because it is an ideal support for a good stretch after ascending one of the more challenging hills.
Today, with this blog in mind, I stopped along the way to take pictures and was surprised to hear a woman’s voice, “Perfect place to take a picture, isn’t it?” She stopped and said, “I walk this road every chance I get. It helps me get through the day.”
We began to talk. Actually, she did most of the talking. She lives alone, works at a nearby recovery center, and loves animals, especially cats. She showed me a picture of the adorable kitten she is adopting. We parted and continued on our different ways.
I thought about how much I will miss my walks on that road when I go home, how hot and humdrum my daily walks in Memphis are by comparison, how rare and precious that Dangerous Road is…and suddenly I realized what the real danger of that road is: it is idealizing specific places, hanging on to them for dear life, as Peter did on the mountain after Jesus’ transfiguration.
That’s what I’m trying to do with this lovely dirt road; nail it down. Decide it’s perfect, that nothing else can possibly compare. I almost laughed out loud writing this when the ultimate irony dawned on me: I live on Walnut Grove Road, for heaven’s sake. Our back yard is carved out of a forest; trees form a canopy of protective shade; azaleas and hydrangeas thrive; it is a good and healthy place to live.
‘Come into the light of things,’ Wordsworth writes. Good words to remember, wherever we are.