Remembering we have it in us

A dear friend e-mailed to share her thoughts on Jason Shindler’s poem “Living,” which I posted last Thursday:  

“Just that it sounded like hope, stupid hope.” Let me share with you my Easter reflection:

The older I get, the less I know. Heck, when I was in my twenties, I had a formula to save the world; today, I’m afraid all I have are questions. I’ve stumbled more often than succeeded. But I pick myself up anyway in the stubborn hope I will be prepared for the next curveball. This much then I know » Hope triumphs. And life, as difficult or humdrum or sad it may be, and for all the complex science to it, is an awesome gift that lets you restart anytime you’re ready.

Happy Easter.  .  .  .

Thank you and happy Easter to you, my friend. Thanks, too, to rudyoldeschulte and bourbakiaxiom and to all of you who have been so kind to like, reblog, or comment on my posts this month. Rudy recommends Sven Birkerts’s The Other Walk, a book of essays. I’ve read an excerpt, which confirms this is the kind of writing that takes me to “the beautiful trail.” For all of us who continue to walk and stumble and hope and restart any way we can, here’s the last sentence of the book’s first essay:

And yes, I did think, right then, that spring does have its own special character, unlike any other time, and that part of what happens in spring is remembering we have it in us to surprise ourselves—things do come fresh again.

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet,
and a light unto my path.”

Psalms 118:105

— from Selections from the Book of Psalms, with an introduction by Bono (The Pocket Canon series, Grove Press, 1999)

(Image by dabacahin. Cover photograph by Mark Power.)

“We walk on in mud and gloom and cold.”

Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard

The path home

“The search may begin with a restless feeling, as if one were being watched. One turns in all directions and sees nothing. Yet one senses that there is a source for this deep restlessness; and the path that leads there is not a path to a strange place, but the path home. (‘But you are home,’ cries the Witch of the North. ‘All you have to do is wake up!’) The journey is hard, for the secret place where we always have been is overgrown with thorns and thickets of ‘ideas,’ of fears and defenses, prejudices and repressions. The holy grail is what Zen Buddhists call our own true nature; each man is his own savior after all.”

— from The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen

(Photograph of Mr. Matthiessen by Jill Krementz. Thank you, Ms. Krementz and New York Social Diary.)

“Mostly I read and walked for miles at night along the beach, writing bad blank verse and searching for someone wonderful who would step out of the darkness and change my life. It never crossed my mind that that person could be me.”

Anna Quindlen, from “At the Beach,” in Living Out Loud


“All my adult life I have kept a distance from other people, it has been my way of coping, because I become so incredibly close to others in my thoughts and feelings of course, they only have to look away dismissively for a storm to break inside me.”

— from My Struggle, Book Two: A Man in Love by Karl Ove Knausgaard

(Photograph of Mr. Knausgaard by Felix Odell. Thank you, Mr. Odell and The New Republic.)

“Why was it that in such moments of unhappiness, anger, and misery, I could find pleasure in nocturnal walks through the desolate streets with only my dreams to keep me company?”

Orhan Pamuk, Istanbul: Memories and the City

A musical score

“Aboriginal Creation myths tell of the legendary totemic beings who had wandered over the continent in the Dreamtime, singing out the name of everything that crossed their path—birds, animals, plants, rocks, waterholes—and so singing the world into existence…. Each totemic ancestor, while travelling through the country, was thought to have scattered a trail of words and musical notes along the line of his footprints … these Dreaming-tracks lay over the land as ‘ways’ of communication between the most far-flung tribes…. In theory, at least, the whole of Australia could be read as a musical score.”

— from The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin

(Image: Thank you, NYRblog.)

Rebecca Solnit: “A sentence is a road and reading is traveling”

This is what is behind the special relationship between tale and travel, and, perhaps, the reason why narrative writing is so closely bound up with walking. To write is to carve a new path in the terrain of the imagination, or to point out new features in a familiar route. To read is to travel through that terrain with the author as guide—a guide one may not always agree with or trust, but who can at least be counted upon to take one somewhere. I have often wished that my sentences could be written out as a single line running into the distance so that it would be clear that a sentence is likewise a road and reading is traveling…. Perhaps those Chinese scrolls one unrolls as one reads preserve something of this sense. The songlines of Australia’s aboriginal peoples are the most famous examples conflating landscape and narrative. The songlines are tools of navigation across the deep desert, while the landscape is a mnemonic device for remembering the stories: in other words, the story is a map, the landscape a narrative.

— from Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit

As I walk paths

“Paths and their markers have long worked on me like lures: drawing my sight up and on and over. The eye is enticed by a path, and the mind’s eye also. The imagination cannot help but pursue a line in the land—onwards in space, but also backwards in time to the histories of a route and its previous followers. As I walk paths I often wonder about their origins, the impulses that have led to their creation, the records they yield of customary journeys, and the secrets they keep of adventures, meetings and departures.”

— from The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot by Robert Macfarlane

(Photograph: Mr. Macfarlane on the Broomway by David Quentin. Thank you, Mr. Quentin and PRI.)

“As I envisage it, landscape projects into us not like a jetty or peninsula, finite and bounded in its volume and reach, but instead as a kind of sunlight, flickeringly unmappable in its plays yet often quickening and illuminating. We are adept, if occasionally embarrassed, at saying what we make of places—but we are far less good at saying what places make of us. For some time now it has seemed to me that the two questions we should ask of any strong landscape are these: firstly, what do I know when I am in this place that I can know nowhere else? And then, vainly, what does this place know of me that I cannot know of myself?”

Robert Macfarlane, from “Path,” in The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot

“We have felt that we almost alone hereabouts practised this noble art [of walking] …. No wealth can buy the requisite leisure, freedom, and independence, which are the capital in this profession. It comes only by the grace of God. It requires a direct dispensation from heaven to become a walker.”
— Henry David Thoreau, from “Walking” 
(Image: Thank you,

“We have felt that we almost alone hereabouts practised this noble art [of walking] …. No wealth can buy the requisite leisure, freedom, and independence, which are the capital in this profession. It comes only by the grace of God. It requires a direct dispensation from heaven to become a walker.”

Henry David Thoreau, from “Walking”

(Image: Thank you,

“We walked in so pure and bright a light, gilding the withered grass and leaves, so softly and serenely bright—I thought I had never bathed in such a golden flood, without a ripple or a murmur to it.”

Henry David Thoreau, from “Walking”

With your feet I walk
I walk with your limbs
I carry forth your body
For me your mind thinks
Your voice speaks for me
Beauty is before me
And beauty is behind me
Above and below me hovers the beautiful
I am surrounded by it
I am immersed in it
In my youth I am aware of it
And in old age I shall walk quietly
The beautiful trail.

Navajo Prayer

(Photograph: Path of Light by Liz Jones. Thank you, Ms. Jones and A Good Thing Happened.)

“Time put things in their place.”

Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude