Author’s note: This is a piece I wrote five years ago. I made several weak attempts at getting it published—all unsuccessful. Now, I’ve decided to post it in short chapters on my blog. All names have been changed and some details. Since I wrote this, my beloved dog, Baxter, has died, I’ve gained weight, again, and have three novels published and two more in the works. Like the river, life goes on is usually wonderful! Enjoy and feel free to give me feedback. Bill Mathis
The River Path – Chapter 6
This day, I walk a different path with a different dog, named Gracie—an appropriate name isn’t it? I’m on the high plains of Wyoming, visiting my parents. My father, eighty-seven, normally hale and hearty, is slowly recovering from pneumonia. Mom, eighty-six, snow white hair, beautiful smile, has been diagnosed with early dementia. With Dad’s help, she covers her gaps very well and writes lots of notes as she struggles to stay organized. Neither have lost their sense of humor or quick wit, nor Mom her ability to make gingersnap cookies or cream-of-potato soup from scratch. They are a true team, now married for over sixty-eight years.
We enjoy a wonderful visit, filled with humor, love, acceptance and grace. While my parents have not changed their literal Biblical views, including homosexuality, their sense of love and grace does not include rejection. I am their son, I am loved. Some things we don’t discuss, yet it is a wonderful five days together.
Gracie, a mix of Border collie and corgi is accustomed to several long walks each day. She and I head up a hill, going past spacious homes overlooking the valley. Our walk gets steeper until the homes cease and we crest onto the prairie, the high plains. It’s windy, it’s Wyoming. The sky today is light blue-gray and immense. A sense of smallness, distance, envelopes me. Living in the Midwest, out here, this vastness, the height of the sky, the miles of uninterrupted views, always amazes, delights me.
I see a lone cottonwood tree shimmering on the prairie. A ten-foot-tall wire fence with large mesh forms a right angle with the tree growing some five hundred feet in from either leg of the fence. Both sides of the fence seem to extend to infinity. I take out my camera. I want to capture the vastness, the bright blue mixed with gray sky, this solitary tree, alone in the middle of the unending prairie. I put the lens through the fence, but I can’t compose the tree in the center of all that openness without part of the fence showing. Eventually, I take the shot so the fence legs are eliminated, the tree near the left side of the photo, vastness to the right; a good shot, but a shot with the tree in the center would have better represented what I was seeing, sensing. I step back and instinctively take several shots of the tree framed through the mesh. The fence wires, now up close, dominate—strong, dark brown, extending to the sky and forever on the right. The tree looks small, framed by the wire, fluttering green, contrasting against the sky and earth.
On my plane ride home, I can’t get the tree and fence out of my mind. I think about the symbolism of trees and rivers. Both provide life—the river of life, the tree of life—both offer sustenance, strength and energy, shelter and refuge, beauty and rest. By the river, under the tree.
I reflect on that fence, liken it to the dam by my home. Comparing them is different, more difficult. A dam holds back, controls, regulates, but still allows every drop over or through. However, only certain things can get over a fence or through it. A fence is designed to keep out way more than it lets in, or to hold in specific, selected things. Intended to keep plants, animals, humans, ideas, value or beliefs—in or out. Its gates open or close at the will of a gatekeeper.
I ponder about who or what I fence in or out of my life, and why. I reflect on who fences me out and my feeling of sometimes being on the outside looking in. Something I experience, but not as much as other people I know. Fences and dams are necessary, but I wonder if we don’t overuse them, abuse them, in all sorts of ways.
I decide I am not very good at life’s analogies and will be glad to get off the plane and back home. Back to my partner. Back to our bed. Back to my river path. Back to my wandering, wondering, pondering.
Chapter 7 Next Week!