Tuesday, May 12, 2009

All's well that ends well

Today I sit in a lush ravine, surrounded by thick underbrush, twisted and tangled. The trunks of fallen trees lean heavy on struggling neighbors, creaking with each gentle breeze. I can hear the gurgling of a small stream a few feet away. I hear it, but cannot make it out through the growth.

The wilderness trail I traveled to get here was longer than anticipated. Pleasantly so. I couldn’t help but smile as I passed a small post with the word “trail” carved into the side. The continuing path ahead was well worn, bare soil flanked by woodland trees and bright green foliage. “Hmmm. Now, where as that trail again? Thank God for the sign!”

A bit further down the path, another sign read “trail ahead dead ends.” I read it, but, never hesitated at my forward pace. The motion was instinctive.

Now, I know “objects in motion tend to stay in motion.” I recognize there must be countless psychological explanations for why people stay a course, resist a change in trajectory, or disregard warning signs. But, I found myself immediately considering the simple question, “if you know the trail dead ends, why continue?” “What real motivation does one have for forging ahead?”

My parents own a home that was built by my great-grandfather. I spent the majority of my growing up years on that acreage. The street dead ends into the South Canadian River. I have always loved hiking (though, as a younger man, allergies often kept me from it). When we were kids, my brother and I would spend hours exploring the river bed, tumbling down the sand dunes, and searching out hiding places.

There is a park at the end of the street. An old wagon wheel stands affixed to a large, stone monument at the entrance to the playground. The recreation area is dedicated to the pioneers who crossed the river there during the 1889 land run. Every year, hundreds of people travel from all over the country and, decked out in full prairie regalia, mount up on horseback or in covered wagons to reenact the crossing. I recall that our street would be covered in (and, consequently, reek of) horse feces for a week.

When I was in grade school, a sand and gravel company somehow managed to procure the rights to some of the area resources. Large dump-trucks passed up and down our street multiple times a day, damaging the pavement, creating traffic danger for local children, and becoming a general nuisance to residents. My mother, along with many of our neighbors, went on the war path. I will not go into the details of the ordeal, nor will I take time to elaborate on the dangers to anyone foolhardy enough to underestimate my mother. I will simply say that, in the end, the street was repaired and the trucks were rerouted.

There are quite a few amazing things that can happen and many fascinating discoveries to be made at a “dead end.” In fact, the trail I hiked to this spot is not a dead end at all—regardless of what the sign said. There is a long loop that returns you, surprisingly enough, to the back side of the same sign.

When I began to put down my thoughts, I fully intended to write about the divergence of paths and the process—the criteria one uses to make his/her choice of direction. I thought of writing about “destination” verses “journey.” I thought I would even introduce “adventure,” not as a companion to either, but rather as an alternative to both. But, instead, I couldn’t get passed the thought that the end of the trail can be the beginning of many worthwhile things. I am finding , in my life, that words like beginning and end can rob me of more clarity, understanding—discovery, than they provide. Beginning often merely describes the place where we have picked up the trail (or first acknowledged that we were on it). And, it is at the end of the trail that some of the best adventures in life begin.