Entries in Cathedral (1)

Wednesday
Jun012011

Come Home Less Tamely

A hundred feet above the tree tops a fiddler’s tune made its way up to me on a warm summer breeze. I sat alone on a bench of granite, setting up an anchor to belay my friends far below. I jostled aluminum bolts and cams. I flicked away flies to untangle and tie my knots. I worked methodically in silence. Slowly my breathing found a rhythm. The sweat accrued from the climb up dried off my brow. And upon the wind notes hinted, like a ghost whishing about the trees’ leaves and rock wall. I looked up to think about the person scratching out this gentle song, and I saw a dozen miles out into the blue—a roll of mountains, groves of pines, ancient farms, and the bend of a river that cut through it all.

Hours earlier, I had sat down there in the morning sun, drinking coffee on a farmhouse porch. There was music there too: the murmuring of voices in a house; gravel crunching under a car’s tires; the snap and clap of a screen door. These are all the sounds of summer in New England—empty notes…that fill the spaces between the waist high grass, that tip over the rock walls, that gurgle and boil in the streams, that evoke my childhood scrambles through the woods. And here I am still, decades on, with my same friend, clambering about the wilderness in search of such songs on the wind—faint scratchings that serve as the score for man's place amidst the wild beauty and dangers of nature, whether today or two hundred years ago. To a climber on a wall, a violinist on a river is a beautiful thing indeed. 

“Men come tamely home at night only from the next field or street,” Thoreau wrote in Walden, “where their household echoes haunt, and their life pines because it breathes its own breath over again; their shadows, morning and evening, reach farther than their daily steps. We should come home from far, from adventures, and perils, and discoveries every day, with new experience and character."