A Lesson in Brambles
I have survived every bad thing that has ever happened to me.
Of course I have--I'm writing this. And, dear reader, so have you.
I've also won so many of life's lotteries, I've lost count. I am rich in ways I have hoped and planned for, and in ways I could not have imagined. And perhaps, dear reader, so are you. Let's go for a walk.
One of the first land projects we completed after moving all of our stuff and selves to these Naked Acres was cutting a path in and around the old corn and soybean field so we could get a lot closer to the action of our wild neighbors: the winged ones, the four-legged and furry, the legless and slithery, and all the rest of God's Critters Who Have a Place in the Choir (if you're not familiar with that song, remind me to sign it for you sometime). Seventeen of the forty-one acres were cut into an L-shaped tillable field, the long part of the letter running north-to-south, and then making a 90 degree turn west toward the creek. The first path we cut simply outlined the entire L-shape, and we delighted in making that left turn from north to west because we could peer into the deep woods to our right that held onto their secrets, and eventually turn left again, heading south, and come to the Hill that sloped parallel to the creek. From the top of that Hill, we have a lovely view of steeple belonging to the little Baptist church three farms over to the east; it was idyllic and just what two urban transplants were taught to expect from living in the country. We stood on that Hill many times, gazing in all directions for long minutes, letting the full reality of our good luck wash over us and drench us in gratitude. Eventually, something would pull our feet forward, and we would continue our prayer down the slope of the Hill southward until the field flattened out and we could peer into the woodsy meadow to the south (we didn't cut a path through that bramble-y overgrowth until our second year).
With no plans to ever till that field again, it didn't take long for the ironweed and blackberries to lay claim to it, in random patches that pulled at our jeans and flannel sleeves, daring us to move even an inch further. Keeping the path maintained became a regular spring and summer pilgrimage, involving a neighbor's brush hog mower now and then, and, over the years, a series of riding mowers which the land seemed to enjoy eating on an annual basis. In time, we added a new path that cut a diagonal line from the corner of the L-shape back toward the entrance to the meadow (a place we have knowingly and lovingly come to know as "where the worlds meet"), adding twenty minutes to our walks. Nice.
So here we are, 18+ years and thousands of steps later, and the path has evolved as anyone could expect. Storms have dropped some of the black walnuts across the short section of the L to the west, where the Hill is, and we've not been too fussed about clearing them. Blackberry and multi-flora rose vines, thorny and obstinate, are now thick and tangled, and the most anyone has done in recent years is look at it and turn around, offering a thin promise to clear it up "the next time I'm out this way". But this morning, not quite 30 degrees and a blazing sun well on its way across the sky, I put on my chicken-decorated boots and headed down the path once more, taking the diagonal cut through the field heading northeast. I wanted that view from the Hill, thorns and tangles and all.
I hadn't been on the path by the woods in a while, so didn't realize just how overgrown it was. The blackberry vines were especially vicious; crisscrossing and arcing over the field grass, conjuring up images of the darkest fairy tales, where secondary characters were lured into the woods to meet their fate. I came to the edge of cut path, where we'd stopped mowing last summer, and contemplated, literally, my next move. I didn't have to be anywhere (Patrick was still asleep and would be for a few more hours), I was dressed for the occasion, and had brought with me, as I always do, a full cup of curiosity. I plunged in, thanking my two layers of long-sleeved jackets and my sturdy work gloves.
Making it past the first few feet of crisscrossed vines was fairly simple--I gingerly pinched the end of one branch and moved it aside until I was well clear of it, then stepped to the side to ease around the next one. It felt like part Twister, part Jenga, as the path became more thicket-y. I added ducking and turning to my pinching and side-stepping moves, and "The Matrix" to my list of walking metaphors. The Hill was getting closer, but not quickly. These thorny vines and my maneuvers slowed my walk down to an almost-crawl (hey, crawling...in hindsight, would that have been a better way to go? We'll never know).
As all walks usually do, this one gave me free head space to allow a handful of dormant thoughts to unfold and take root; the slow and careful vine-pinching and advancing forward six or seven inches became a side rhythm to my recollections of my life's hardest times. There's no planning these moments of reflection and awakening--they just come, hoping we're awake and paying attention. One at a time, I considered everything I've ever survived up to this point...how I'd moved slowly and carefully through the shards of broken relationships and innocence lost, and the way the thorns of grief, ignored and untended, eventually caught my heart's sleeve, forcing me to stop and acknowledge there's no running through a thicket like that. Collected and tallied up, the hard times looked an awful lot like the long view of the path still ahead of me on this morning's walk. but up close, one vine at a time, they are conquerable.
In my life so far, I've made my way through, moving things aside, stopping to contemplate my next option, and getting stuck once in a while (sometimes viciously, with scars as evidence). I've reconciled fear and curiosity, forgiveness and indifference, as each challenge gave me the gift of choice in its thorny hands. And while I haven't always chosen wisely, had the right clothes or tools for the occasion, I've been allowed to keep going, coming out on the other side, scratched and a little smarter about how to navigate amidst the brambles.
I did indeed make it to the Hill this morning, and smiled out loud: it was thick with blackberry vines as well. Huh. I stood among them, guides more than adversaries now, and enjoyed the view of the steeple to the east. In August, these vines would be dripping to the ground with fruit that I could eat.
I'd just won another lottery.