“In the gift of this new day / in the gift of the present moment / in the gift of time and eternity intertwined / let me be thankful / let me be attentive / let me be open to what has never happened before / in the gift of this new day / in the gift of the present moment / in the gift of time and eternity intertwined.”J. Philip Newall, Sounds of the Eternal
The day that I have anticipated for nearly two years has finally arrived. It will be filled with sunshine on blue waters, forests of variegated green limbs shading the road, a gentle breeze to keep the warming temperatures moderate to the skin, a favorite store saved from the pandemic, and fellow wanderers who just want to saunter, to sit, to gaze, to ingest, to be rather quiet in the wake of this north country’s iconic summer gifts.
I have driven along miles and miles of rich green fields, alive with hundreds of acres of corn that has just started to tassle out and of soybeans, thick with growth and promise. The rolling hills where they grow are elegant, poetic even. Groves of tall pine trees and oaks and beech enfold the homes and outbuildings of each family farm here, gifts that hold back some of the cold winter winds and the hot summer sun.
I have stopped three times at the Mississippi River backwaters which were largely dressed, in mid-summer, with a coat of yellow-green algae. It was so quiet there now. I took pictures of this year’s woods and ponds and, far away, the emerging sight of the bluffs toward which I was longingly headed.
Now, I am finally sitting before Old Man River. I face the Mississippi at Wabasha, Minnesota, my longed-for destination on a trip that had been delayed by nearly two years of illness, fear, separation, and a solitary life. The old Hammerstein/Kern tune, “Ol’ man river, he jest keeps rollin’ along,” is true. I am comforted by the familiar scene, even as I’m aware that I have been irretrievably changed.
I am sitting on the partially covered porch of the chocolate shop where I have sat, writing, in years past. It has survived the pandemic and I am giddy about buying their special cashew turtles. Their chocolate has 4 times more cocoa in the poured deliciousness, so the sin of gluttony takes on a whole new meaning as I bite down into its salty-sweet wonder again.
I made it! Pandemic and cancer have had their way with me, and I am still here and alive at 80!
After two energetic days with my family in Wisconsin, I am running lower on physical energy than I want, so resting after the long drive is what I need just now. Rest, so that I can fully appreciate the gift of this moment. The gift of arrival. The gift of return. The gift of still being alive in spite of…
I open my small notebook and begin to write, as if I might forget what I am feeling and seeing. It’s my habit. I close it after just a couple of sentences. This is a time to simply gaze. To take it all in. I will remember.
Then it is time to leave the porch and begin my watchful walk, ambling closer to the river. It becomes the gift of “time and eternity intertwined.” I sit on a bench when I get there, soaking up the warm sun and the breeze which is so perfectly calibrated for the day.
For once in my life, I do not choose to “think” about what I am seeing and feeling. I give nothing its language. I just look, feel, gaze, listen. I am, in Newall’s words, “present, thankful, attentive, open.” Surprisingly, fewer other tourists/wanderers are here than I expected, and nearly all are quiet, ambling, as if in the presence of the holy.
I choose not to go down to the water itself. For today, I need the Big Picture. Detail is for another day.
Motored boats and some sailboats go slowly by in the “no wake” area of the town. There is more than enough river for each to have acres to themselves. This is easy time. No hurry. Just “be.”
There is more river yet to see, though, and eventually I need to leave. The 19 mile drive to my next destination is my dream-come-true. High granite bluffs, covered with forest that reaches out over the highway to my left and several outbreaks of wide-open views of the River to my right are a visual symphony.
The River grows wider as it rolls toward Lake City, and it is dotted on this day with the white triangles of sailboats spread out, each with its own little lake of space to allow the wind to take it where it will. I can feel the gift of sailing.
I now saunter on the path just above the river. I stop to spend some more time on a sun-drenched bench and take everything into my spirit with wide open arms. I have, indeed, “made it.” This is the dream, now alive.
Too soon and to my dismay, I am faced with the reality that I am still in late stages of recovery from the cancer. I am getting tired. I have some 40 miles of winding two-lane highway to drive home yet, so I reluctantly leave before my soul is ready. The memories, though, are firmly planted. I shall return.
On the ride home, which quickly leaves the bluff country behind and returns me to the rolling hills of corn and beans, I am all smiles. This old body isn’t quite up to par yet, but this old spirit is still wide awake and eager to grab up every beautiful thing that is out there just waiting to show itself off to me. The gifts of time and eternity are still “rollin’ along,” just like The River.
I have taken only a few pictures all day. I wanted to “see” everything, everything in its full glory. Unframed. Whole. To give thanks and know that it is all grace.
And I’m very okay with that!