Whew, the Southeast and Midwest have been slammed repeatedly by the weather this week, and it looks like we have more to come. As I put together morning news, several days’ biggest story was the laundry list of downed power lines, tornado sightings, and flash floods all over our listening area. This is the time of the year that Spring wants to go out with a bang–give you something to remember her by before Summer gets here. Most of us have already started calling this Summer, but at least in my area, summer is much more predictable–hot days, humid, maybe a pop-up shower, but nothing that’s going to drop trees and cut people’s power. No, it’s still Spring, and Spring wants you to know that.
I’ve been in this perpetual haze for most of the week, partially because I haven’t gotten the right amount of sleep, but also because I’ve spent way too much time sitting in front of a screen. When I was doing camp work, there was certainly screen time, but there was also the guarantee that I would end up outside, completely alone or working with actual people, in person. It gave me this good balance of thinking and doing, reflecting and experiencing, creating and observing. Now, there is nothing in a typical day forcing me to get off the computer and connect to something real, so I just keep accomplishing tasks or farting away the time scanning facebook, praying for something interesting, usually disappointed.
My wife, Allyson, is the Counseling Director for Commonwealth Honors Academy this month, and it puts her in a position much like I was at camp. She is working long days, staying in a place remote from but close to home, and most of her job is creating programs and supervising college age counselors who supervise teenagers. It’s been cool to have this role reversal and see Allyson experience all the joys and frustrations of something I essentially did for years of our marriage. Role reversals are really good for people in some sort of relationship, I think. It’s a good way to understand each other in ways that just talking about it often can’t get across. We are often quick to judge someone’s situation, thinking they are doing one thing or another out of some motivation that could be completely wrong. Usually, everything is looked at through our lens. This person must be treating me this way because of something he/she thinks about me, or he/she is thinking in this way I do, it must relate to me in some way. Then we step into their shoes and realize there’s a lot more to think about in this world than me.
I see how Allyson is creating all these new relationships, managing all these fun activities, working happily late into the night, and it reminds me of how camp used to be for me. Then I look at myself, and how this week I haven’t gotten outside enough, how I’ve stared at computer screen far too long, and I think about how easy it was for Allyson to be stuck at home while I was at camp for whole evenings. How easy it must have been for her to just turn on the television for hours then feel like she was doing nothing with her life.
Knowing I needed to get out, I planned a trip Friday to our land to explore and try to harvest some blackberries and blueberries. We bought this bit of land after it had been pretty heavily logged, and about 5 years later, it is coming back to life. I spent the first few hours that evening in one of our valleys that surrounds a creek. There are so many trees shooting up, and they’ve gotten 12-20 feet tall. I trimmed out some of the shorter ones to give the stronger trees less competition, hoping they’ll grow even better now. It also gives us space to walk around in this shaded area next to our beautiful creek bank. As it got dark, I built myself a fire on one of our tall hills. I unrolled my sleeping pad and pulled out a light sleeping bag. Digby and I settled in for the evening, surrounded by lightening bugs and whippoorwills.
This week has been full of engagements for me. I’ve had visits from good friends, Jonathan Gowan and David Hollis. I spent the weekend with my sister, her husband, and my nephew and niece. I also attended a dinner thanking donors to the radio station and honoring the cool things the station has accomplished. I still feel inadequate in that way you’re bound to feel as the new guy in a job you’ve never done before. I’m doing fine at it, but I’m still needing a lot of help and am still getting lots of guidance. There will be moments of great accomplishment, but they quickly get undercut when I do something that reminds me I have a lot to learn. With that, I don’t feel on very equal footing with most of my co-workers. But, give me an event, and I’m as comfortable as anyone else there. It’s a good feeling to stand with people you appreciate and even admire and to feel comfortable talking and being social. It’s good to feel accepted by people you hope will accept you. I was standing in the reception hall, looking out over all these people who lead such interesting lives, having conversations about writing and music, and it hit me for one of the first times since I moved to Murray: “this is something you might be able to do for a long time. This is a group of people you might just fit in with. This is comfortable.” With all the challenges I’ve met in the past year and half with going back to school, doing jobs that are new to me, and living in a new place, I haven’t had those feelings very much. It’s not that it’s been bad, but you go from somewhere you’ve spent close to 20 years of your life and the next place is liable to be challenging in some form. It’s good to have that, because it grows you. But, it’s also nice to feel safe sometimes, and in that safety realize that you are growing.
That night on the land, next to my camp fire, I watched the moon, covered by clouds, uncovered, then covered again. A breeze picked up and my fire strengthened. It felt so nice out there in the open air with that cool wind, making the conditions just right. It wasn’t long, though, before I heard the thunder. Soon came the rain. I packed my gear and Digby up and got in the car where we would spend the rest of the night. It was not so ideal, but we did manage to sleep. I woke to a cool fog on the land. Climbing some of my hills, looking out over those trees, it looked like a rain forest. I made my way to the hillside with hundreds and hundreds of
blueberry bushes and began plucking the ripe, deep indigo berries. All in all, I picked pounds. I was out there in the land, alone. I took off my shoes and walked in the creeks, swollen from all the rain. More rain, more storms, more fallen branches would soon come. I would picks ticks off myself and Digby into the next day. These things are never perfect. But man, did I feel alive out there. I still think that, eating one of those blueberries that come up on their on, that I picked with my own hands and carried on my back out of the woods to keep for a time and share with my family and friends.