I Was Here
Chardon, do you realize we live within an hour of Cuyahoga Valley National Park? Yesterday, desiring a bit of escapism, I went there. I left the bubble. I needed space. It wasn’t the bubble itself which I’d hoped to escape - it’s not you, it’s me - but an obsessive over-thinking about my life inside it. I’d hoped in experiencing the great outdoors I’d experience inner peace. I went alone to enjoy the solitude. And though I desperately tried to do just that, the voice in my head refused to keep quiet. “Where is this leading?” it asked. No, it didn’t mean the trail. It means the blog and it’s been asking, innocently, consistently, for the better part of a week occassionally through my husband, Sean. From an outside perspective, though premature, the question seems harmless enough and perhaps even healthy. But I know what It’s about. It’s intentions are suspect. I answer the question with a question. “Why do I write?”
I step onto a dirt path having planned a route that’ll take me out and back on the Stanford Trail then to Brandywine Falls and around the Brandywine Gorge Loop. I’ve been wanting to see the falls since summer when we hiked the ledges as a family. I depart the first leg of Stanford to the satisfying crush of rock underfoot. I think, It’s too bad the sun’s not out but, no matter. This feels good; and right. I tell myself, Now, I’m not going to think and certainly not about writing. I’m just gonna hike and clear my head. I begin noticing things, a squirrel darting across the path. He looks busy. I wonder what he’s up to. I descend a gently sloping trail nestled among the hornbeams and cottonwoods. From high among them birds call out. I wonder what they’re talking about. How would I describe the sound? Something like a trill but no, I used that in last week’s post about Tennesee. For someone who’s afraid of birds I sure mention them alot. I look down at my feet having turned onto a muddy segment of the trail. I like how this mud squishes under my feet. Slap, squish, suction. Slap, squish, suction. I’d really like to walk through it barefoot. I bet it’d be cold. The trail gradually climbs. I hear the steady rhthym of my breath. The air smells of smoke, earth, dampness, decay. Dead leaves chatter in the…”Dang it! I’m writing and thinking!” I say. “Where is this leading?” the voice asks. “Why do I write?”
I once followed a white rabbit down a trail of a different sort. The trail began in Petoksey, Michigan where Ernest Hemingway spent much of his youth, where my family spent many blissful weeks of our year-long, cross-country adventure. Eventually, it wound it’s way to Ohio where resident and author Paula McLain wrote a book about Hemingway’s third wife, Martha Gellhorn, entitled Love and Ruin which happened to catch my eye while browsing the lower level of the Chardon Library. Intrigued by McLain’s portrayal of Martha and eager to learn more I acquired a copy of Selected Letters of Martha Gellhorn. Though overshadowed by the fame and personality of Hemingway, Gellhorn was a noted author and war correspondent in her own right. She was also a prolific letter writer. Her selected letters carry on for more than 500 pages and encompass a span greater than 60 years detailing near daily her thoughts on life, her fears, successes, adventures, love, friendships, loss, her struggle with the craft to which she devoted her life yet caused her much despair and self-doubt. It’s a painful and beautiful portrayal of a real life in all its stages, a profoundly human existence painted in her own words. Over the course of many years and letters Martha often lamented her poor memory. Approaching the end of her life, nearly blind, she longed to dictate a memoir but was grieved that she couldn’t remember the details of her life’s experiences. I finished the book saddened and somewhat shaken. I, too, lament a poor memory. I write to remember.
Earlier this week I was up past 1am finishing a blog post. At 8pm, my kids’ bedtime, I told myself naively that I’d be done in 30 minutes, an hour tops, if I could only continue uninterrupted. I asked Sean to tuck in the kids in and he did, in his own way. I like my way - lying in bed with them, reading, talking of the day, of what lies ahead. But I passed on it to finish writing which I didn’t until hours later, everyone asleep and me at the desk in our master bedroom by the glow a small lamp and the glare of the computer screen, Sean in bed with his back to the light. I felt regret. “Where is this leading?” the voice asked. It’s not so much the question that bothers me as the feeling it stirs in my chest, the one that questions why anyone would bother working hard at anything they’re not getting paid for, that causes me to long for likes on Instagram, nags at me to pull up my site analytics, check the subscriber count - yep, still 90% blood relatives. I must take care to guard myself against what pride would have me do. Why does it matter how many subscribers I have? “Why do I write?”
I stand on the lower observation deck overlooking Brandywine Falls as water rushes over rock ledges, spitting foam where it splashes and churns in a reservoir 65’ below. I think of all the national parks we visited in our travels, of my wish list for the town, the community, the house we’d settle in when we came off the road. I smile at the thought of how well Chardon, Ohio - a town and state which we knew not - addresses them so completely. I reflect on how quickly 15 posts have added up to create the foundation of These Moments blog, a story of our life in this place, a story of enthusiasm for living. It’s the kind of enthusiasm that is God-given, that celebrates good people caring for each other, for their community. To awaken and spread enthusiasm, this is my work. This, too, is why I write. “Where is this leading?” the voice asks. “I appreciate your persistence,” I reply, “but you’re asking the wrong question. Instead ask, am I doing right by Him?”
One day when I’m gone my children will read my work. They’ll remember how I tucked them in most nights, be comforted by how much like me, like Sean, like our parents they’ve become. They’ll blame me for their love of sweets and rightly so. At a restaurant over breakfast the three of them will order pancakes, laugh remembering how Mom used to lick syrup from her plate. They’ll reflect on how much there is in life to be enthusiastic about, remember how much I loved them, remember that I was here.