A fork in the road.
(I took this photo on a recent early morning trip to Sunrise at Mount Rainier)
Have you ever wondered what is meant by, or where that expression actually came from ? Wikipedia says: A fork in the road is a metaphor, based on a literal expression, for a deciding moment in life or history when a choice between presented options is required, and, once made, the choice cannot be reversed.
(I want to believe that we came to that fork in the road in our last election. “Snowflakes” we were called. Better that, than whatever the angry and unhappy alternative is. Is there even a name for that ?)
I see a “fork” now, in my own little world. It’s just a few steps ahead of me, and I know it means I am staring down a choice . Robert Frost mused upon this expression in his poem The Road Not Taken. A divergence of paths and an acknowledgement of what it means to consciously choose.
The pandemic has been a game-changer in so many ways. I got to know myself differently this past year. If you had told me two years ago that I would be keeping time with the sun, I never would have believed you. In bed by sunset and up before dawn ? Preposterous. After retirement I had this fantasy about sleeping in and making art deep into the night. It never happened like that. Instead, I am up and driving at civil twilight to keep company at a refuge with wildlife, birds and new friends.
I know where the owls hang out and I could show you abandoned nests in trees where I watched robins and bushtits, flycatchers and hummingbirds break open their protective shells and fledge. I have watched fish become herons, frogs become robins and starlings become weasels. I have watched with a growing curiosity, this world around me.
I could do this walk in the dark. I know where the planks on the boardwalk are swollen and where I’m likely to slip on moss. I know where the swallow nests are, with all of their messiness, and I know how to gingerly step on the graded gravel road to avoid flushing the birds from bushes and trees. I can tell the difference between a Long- billed Dowitcher, a Wilson’s Snipe and a Virginia Rail. I’m learning to listen. More importantly, I’m learning to step lightly on this earth.
That fork ?
For me ? Well, it’s really about the stories I have stirring in me. Five years ago, I wanted to write a tell-all book about the post office. I wanted to expose what goes on inside the walls of that institution. I wanted to rail against the injustice, share stories that would shock and surprise you. Two years ago, I wanted to tell a different story. A story about the people.
Today, all of my stories are converging with the revelations of this past year and a half. I know there’s a way to bring them together. I’m imagining a sturdy thread, strong and colorful. One that can stitch the past into the days unfolding before me.
My fork ?
One road reminds me that life is short and I need to keep making memories. The other reminds me that stories need an attentive narrator. Can I do both ? Can I have it all ?
In two and a half months, I will be joining a circle of writers that will help me discover yet another path. A way forward. The most important thing for me to do is to empty my mind of expectation. We will all likely be at different places in this process and there is no shame in being at the beginning. In fact, that seems the perfect place for me to be as I ask for help.
I am embarrassed to say how often I have the luxury of “time without responsibility” only to squander it. I can feel myself straining to write something clever or interesting and I drift further from what I want to actually say. On those days I delete as much as I keep. It’s a sad case of trying too hard. I should probably operate on the premise that you want what I want: something honest and genuine.
I listen to a lot of books these days. It helps me understand what it means to have “a voice” in written word. I especially love most anything read by the author. The pauses, the inflection, the emotion all spills out exactly as it did in the mind before the pen got hold of it. Memoir is especially meaningful for me in this way. It feels like an intimate exchange of truth. While the circumstances may be wildly different, the feelings they provoke are universal.
I’m away for a few days. I’m on a deck with a gorgeous view and a slight breeze to cut the deepening heat. I hear the birds, though only the little Red-breasted Nuthatches are brave enough to visit the feeders (recently) filled with seed. One especially noisy Stellars Jay will not leave me alone. There is one Anna’s Hummingbird trying to muster up courage to fly past me, but it’s not quite sure of me yet. Yesterday I discovered the owl I have heard here many times before. I suppose it really wasn’t my discovery at all, but rather, the crows wildly opposed to the Barred Owl’s chosen perch. They led me right to him. That, my friends, is my purest joy.
The haze has taken over the afternoon and snuffed out some of the heat. It still feels like New Orleans. You know … sultry. I’ve raided the garden for blueberries, strawberries and three lone pea pods. I’ve tried to do my part to keep the daisies in the garden alive but the deer have other ideas. The cat and I are just chilling out. No forks required. These are the lazy days of summer.