Or something like that. Prepositions dangling at the end of sentences send this editor into twitches and spasms, but that's another tangent and we won't go there. It's a silly song. I don't even believe in those lyrics, certainly not when it comes to loving human beings. Beyond wrong.
journey to Latvia, and it took me ... honestly? it's still taking me, still holding me on some level, still haunting me a bit, still feeling the old cobblestone beneath my feet, still leaning on centuries-old wall even while I'm bumping into modern American brick and aluminum siding .. .where was I?
Ah yes. I am here. Not there. Here. In the United States, in the state of Michigan, and a very long way south from my other most favorite place, the Keweenaw, land arrow pointing into Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Take away the centuries old buildings, and there you are: the Keweenaw. Northern wilderness, bordered by wild water, and I haven't been back yet two weeks? is it three? and already I have a confirmed reservation for a week in the Keweenaw for spring. Blue cottage with white shutters on the very brink of the Superior.
Keweenaw, Latvia ... Latvia, Keweenaw ... I long for one when I am in the other, and when I am in the other, I picture that place left behind. I have a cheating heart. When it comes to place.
And here I am, in neither. I am in southwest Michigan, and am solidly planted for the next some years, until I am all grown up and financially independent and free to go where my cheating heart calls me.
I wake up on a November Saturday morning in Kalamazoo, and the autumn sun is bright and the skies are azure and the day stretches ahead with a few demands, but none that can't be put off for a while longer. At least my old chow pup, Guinnez, is sure of it. Curled up on my bed beside me, he grins a big toothy dog grin at me the moment I lift my head from the pillow.
Oh all right. I tousle his cinnamon head, and bounce from bed ready for some outdoor adventure. I have just the place in mind. I've been thinking about it for some time now, and I'm pretty sure old Guinnie can smell the very thought of trail on me. We've walked the Portage Bicentennial Trail, and I've biked the KalHaven Trail, but there is a new trail that's been snaking its way through the city, sliding alongside the Kalamazoo River, and is branching out here and there, connecting to other trails. I would like to check it out, and this day is perfect for it. And Guinnie agrees. He's all over it. Yeah yeah yeah, wanna wanna wanna.
There are many places where we could connect with the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail (KRV Trail). We drop in on one section, just behind the Homer Stryker Baseball Field, where I've watched a handful of Kalamazoo Kings games. The baseball field is empty and silent. The season is over. The trail behind it is empty, too. We take a quick loop around, take a look at each other and say, in human-doggie language: nah. Not what we had in mind. Woods, lots of trees, that is what we had in mind. Guinnez grins at me, lolling his black and pink tongue (chow pups have black tongues, and the pink in his bears witness to his otherness) at me, and hops back into the car so we can find another section of trail to try.
I sigh. My step quickens. Guinnez looks back at me over his red-ruffled shoulder, flirt that he is, and grins his approval. I wink at him. We are hiking into the perfect November Saturday afternoon. I can love the place I am in, today, now, and set aside my wandering heart for other shores east and north. I am loving the place we are now, and my heart opens to the perfection of the day. The trees are bare. The colorful leaves of early fall are gone. They are now dry, brown ground cover.
For a moment I stop on the trail to look around me, to look up at tree tops and sky, to watch the gentle slip of water moving along between its banks. Not waves, not even ripples, but like a dark silken cloth slipping along. This may not be the most beautiful time of year, not by gaudier standards. The green of spring and summer are gone. The vivid blaze of early autumn colors are gone. The pure and brilliant white of winter has not yet arrived. This is the soft gray of in between, the soft gray of rest, and the earth needs it, too.
There is beauty in these hundred shades of gray. There is beauty in the stark nakedness of the trees, their limbs rising, reaching up toward the sky, scratching at cloud bellies, their roots knuckling under and tangling in dark earth. There is beauty in rest. The autumn blaze is now a soft, pale glimmer of ash. The forest to either side of the trail has exposed itself, offered up its truth, its vulnerability, its open self, unadorned. And Guinnez and I, we are each grateful for the silent wood, each in our own way, but perhaps quite the same.
We stop to look at clusters of berries on a gangly weed. My eye catches on a single branch that still has a row of stubborn red leaves clinging to it, curled like tiny scrolls containing burning secrets. Cat tails stand straight and proud among tall grass, deep velvety brown. Guinnez catches scent and sends a flurry of quail up and away. I toss a smooth pebble into the smooth dark mirror of the river, just to break its surface.
The air is cool and fresh. I breath. I breath deep, and release a week-load of work thoughts and work-worries and other obligations. If I sometimes forget just how much I need this, to be out in the woods, to walk along a river, to see trees, birds, weeds, berries, moss, insects, rocks and pebbles, sticks and tangled vines, and the back end of my happy old chow pup, tail wagging, just ahead, then I full-force remember when I am back in it. This I cannot live without. Wherever I am, on whatever shore, whatever sea or lake, this I need.
Love the place where you are now, I hum. And I do. Present in the moment. This subtle place of gentle grayness, between decisions, not ready yet for choices, and not wanting to be anywhere but here, now. Guinnez stops to lift a leg. Yeah, the every day, with time to rejuvenate and take care of one's needs before climbing mountains and crossing oceans again, I can love this, too. I can love routine, and every day chores that keep us on track, and straight path as well as the bend in the path.
I am grateful for this trail, mile six as we near its end, to remind my old chow pup and me that we don't have to be at the world's eighth wonder to see a beautiful earth, and to feel pleasantly tired and rejuvenated in spirit all at once. Sometimes it takes a denuded, skeleton forest to be ready to appreciate it in full regalia again. Two men in a canoe slowly paddle past and wave. I smile and wave back. Guinnez wags a tail.
Trail end: it's been a good day. A day between, a place between, a season between, a moment to hold one's breath and feel the cool air filling lungs, just before bursting into song again.