This is the last installment of “Ramblings, a Stroll Down Memory Lane With Henry David Thoreau” by Rose Mary Clarke. Click the button below to get the 10th Anniversary Edition on Amazon.
Part IV – I’m Still Learning to Live
MY JOURNEY TO AN INNER LAND
I know where I’ve been, but I still have unanswered questions:
Why am I here?
Who am I?
Where am I going?
“Be rather the Lewis and Clark and Frobisher of your own streams and oceans, explore your own higher latitudes… be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought… it is easier to sail many thousands of miles through cold and storm and cannibals, in a government ship, with five hundred men and boys to assist one, than it is to explore the private sea, the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans of one’s being alone.Henry David Thoreau – Walden
“What Time Is It? It’s Time To Live!”
Everett Ruess had very little time. He had barely set out on his journey through life. He was only twenty – really just a boy – when he disappeared in the wilderness of southern Utah during a painting trip. He must have lived very intensely to have left behind an incredible amount of writing.
He was an eccentric idealist and artist who fell in love with natural beauty and left his California home to spend his brief life as a vagabond during which he was befriended by the likes of Ansel Adams, Indians, and Mormon ranchers.
Few of us are swept up in such a single-minded passion. Although his road was short, it was traveled with great intensity of spirit, adventures, and excitement. I wouldn’t want to be as single-minded and so out of the mainstream as Ruess, but he reminds me to live my life more intensely.
Everett Ruess – Everett Ruess: A Vagabond for Beauty/
GROWING OLDER, BEING BOLDER!
… If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, he will meet with a success unexpected… In the long run men hit only what they aim at… Therefore, though they should fail immediately, they had better aim at something high.Henry David Thoreau – Walden
I ended a column with the words, “WHAT, WHAT, WHAT…?” I had too many ideas and became indecisive because I couldn’t choose which topic to write about.
I am you, and you are me. It’s a consolation to know that others are voyagers in the same leaky boat! Evidently I’m not the only one who dithers. Niece Mary Jo, a talented and successful artist, responded: “I feel this way quite often and wonder how much I could really get accomplished if I could just settle my mind and target a goal even for the next hour.”
My candle burns at both ends.
It will not last the night.
But ah, my foes, and oh my friends,
It gives a lovely lightEdna St. Vincent Millay – “First Fig”
Being aware of the transitory nature of life, I try to live consciously, and it has taken me many years to understand that I am still learning to live. Perhaps I’m restless because I’m on the cusp of a new phase of my existence. It’s tempting to be content with the rich life I’ve had, withdraw to the cocoon of my cozy home, and settle into old age. However, I fear that my mind will ossify if I do that.
Perhaps my real problem is that I’ve been too comfortable and too fearful to accept the risks of another, unknown existence. Many people have unachieved dreams. We think, “When the children are grown; when I have saved enough money; when I retire; when I get my house paid for… then I’ll go to Ireland and see where my people came from, plant an herb garden, take piano lessons, become a gourmet cook…” We say things like, “I was a pretty good art student, you know. One of these days, I’m going to start painting.”
We worry and nitpick our way through life and place monetary, physical, marital, and cultural limitations on ourselves. And that killer:
old age! We kick the can of our dreams down the road into Tomorrowland. The problem is that tomorrow never comes but remains tantalizingly on the horizon of our inner vision.
Oh, there are infinite excuses for denying ourselves our hearts’ desires. I know because I’ve used them!
I ask you, “If not now, when?”
I say to myself, “Who do you think you are to think about publishing a book? No one will want to read it. You’ve got a nice readership for your columns and the satisfaction of writing them. Why not be content with that?”
When Susie Cook, my friend and editor, asked me why I wanted to turn my columns into a book I didn’t have an answer. Once I began to sort through my essays, I came to the realization I am doing this for myself.
Thoreau wrote, “Follow your genius closely enough, and it will not fail to show a fresh prospect every hour.” The process of working on this book has given me a new prospect on my life.
I saw a program called “Growing Bolder” on PBS. It features aging dream-chasers who have the courage to pursue their passions and smash the stereotypes about growing old. You name it, they’re doing it: painting, performing rock and roll music, flying, running, renovating buildings, doing motocross…
That’s what I mean to do: I’m going to forget about becoming old and focus on becoming bold.
A SEPTEMBER SONG
– THE CATERPILLAR AND THE BUTTERFLY –
Oh, it’s a long, long while from May to December –
But the days grow short when you reach September.
When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame
One hasn’t got time for the waiting game.
And the days dwindle down to a precious few…
Kurt Weil – Sung by Frank Sinatra
Butterfly Diary: The number of butterflies at the sunshine nectar bar, as I call our sedum plants, dwindled from twenty so that only two butterflies and a bumblebee visited on the day of the autumnal equinox. September 28: Only one butterfly and the bumblebee showed up. October 1: It’s sunny, but chilly and breezy; no butterflies.
Winter is coming.
I looked up the life span of butterflies. One must, of course, be rational, but I rather wish that I hadn’t discovered that most butterflies live a few weeks at the most after reaching adulthood. The group of butterflies who came to the sedum plant were there for two or three weeks. They had their brief, avid fling of slurping up nectar during the warm, sunny days of September, and then disappeared. Sic transit gloria… (Thus, passes glory)
I don’t know whether these butterflies migrate with the changing of the light that governs the migration of Monarchs that covers thousands of miles. It would be nice to think so, but I doubt it.
I took deep pleasure from seeing them, perhaps because I knew that it was so ephemeral, Also, there don’t seem to be as many butterflies in as great a variety as there used to be. My mother told how when she was a girl during the early 1900’s, thousands of tiny blue butterflies would fly up in a cloud when she shuffled her bare feet along the dirt, country roads near Michigantown. when I was growing up many kinds of butterflies came to our yard.
While I was dusting our books – sneeze, sneeze, sneeze – I pulled out a book about butterflies published in 1917 that I’d bought at a Benton House Book Sale.
Our lives are so filled with getting, spending, working, face-booking, tweeting, and such that we take little notice of the quiet wonders of the seemingly simple creatures with whom we share planet Earth.
I had forgotten about the complex transformation during four distinct stages from egg to adult butterfly and how selective and sometimes inflexible nature is.
Take the aptly named Monarch: an egg laid upon a milkweed leaf hatches into a caterpillar. No other plant will do. If the Monarch caterpillar munches another kind of leaf it will die. The caterpillar voraciously eats and grows, shedding five skins.
After it has grown enough, it attaches itself to a leaf by a silken web and becomes a pupa round which a hard chrysalis is spun and a change occurs inside the chrysalis at the end of which it will be a totally new being.
For example, it loses some of its legs, and its mouth that chews becomes the slender proboscis that the butterfly inserts in flowers to sip nectar. One day, the metamorphosis from what was a crawling, homely caterpillar into a winged, flying, ethereal butterfly is complete, and the lovely new being bursts forth.
I have reached the stage in my life where I don’t like to think about endings, whether it’s that of butterflies or my own. Butterflies develop according to a pre-ordained pattern and live their brief span governed by immutable natural laws.
The awareness and the ability to introspect that we humans possess are both a blessing and a curse. I wonder which stage I’m at. I, too, am a child of nature, Am I a lowly caterpillar, still munching leaves, or am I still imprisoned in a chrysalis, waiting to break free and fly?
Butterflies are not, presumably, aware of the natural imperatives that govern their brief time of living. I am. I’d better get busy and slurp up the nectar of life while I can. Winter approaches.
– ALL IS A CIRCLE WITHIN ME –
Here on this mountain, I am not alone
For all the lives I used to be are with me.
All the lives tell me now I have come home.
All is a circle within me.
I am ten thousand winders old,
I am as young as a newborn flower…
as a tree in bloom
All is a circle within me…
I have seen the world on fire
And the sky without a moon.
… I have gone to the edge of the sky,
Now all is at peace within me.
Now all has a place to come home…
The American Indian who composed these lovely lines is a kindred spirit. I had a major “Ah-ha!” moment when I found these words. I feel as if I can reach across time and space into a different mind and culture and say, “I feel the same way you do!”
Looking back at my life, I hope to find peace and to become more at home with the person I am, and to be more one with nature as is the butterfly. I don’t know what form I shall take when I break free and become a new being, but I look forward to Spring.