The miles roll off with ease, as if gravity had lost a little of its power. At Crow’s Nest follow the headwaters of the French Creek through wetlands, then turn into long sunny meadows and climb to corn fields and hay fields. Your muscles will feel oiled, your thoughts will gain a kind of temporary repose. For this time, the rhythm of your walking may cauterize the infection of the present desperate meanness in American life. I know I must quiet those dire voices. I want to believe that most of us are alike in this regard.
I meet no one out here, no other walkers; the gun range is silent. Big cumulous clouds move west to east. Leaves move, the corn and grasses drift west to east in undulations of green-gold, brown, tan, auburn. From atop a rise, everything falls away, and one is left only with the susurration of this breeze, west to east, and the clear blue of the sky, and the pulses of a season edging into its prime.
Now turn and cross into woods so silent that when you stop and hold your breath and close your eyes, there is … nothing except a purring sough of air in the high branches of the trees. Here you will slow down — the trail throws up rocks and roots. Sometimes you stop and briefly imagine that ‘it’ might appear, the vision, the owl in the crook of a deadfall, the coyote in the undergrowth, or an array of crows, wings outstretched — the mysterious emblems of another world. Instead you come to a clearing and a quiet road and across the way a white church that looks like the Dunker Church that lay on the far side of another cornfield one hundred sixty miles south and west. We are a bloody minded species and filled with awful deeds completed … or in abeyance, but this churchyard is empty, and only the gentled dead lie here leaving the living their English and German family names — the Trago’s, Painter’s, Haw’s and Lloyd’s, the Mosteller’s and Parlaman’s, Kerby’s and Guiles, and their old given names — Eli, Henry, Anna, Emerson, Sarah, Samuel, Clara, Lydia, Rebecca and the outlier, Lafayette.
Well made stone walls harbor the church in a grass filled square. Eight inch slats of hardwood form a cap meant to sluice away rain and snow. Hand forged nails hold them in place. The cap has been intact longer than I have been alive. Stand in a corner of the square and take in all of this — the white church, clean-lined, simple, the big trees that hug the meadow, the good, straight walls, the western light. This place makes tangible the dream of a trustworthy, unfailing peace.
The good Christians buried here almost certainly believed in the actual resurrection of the body made new and delivered from corruption — how pleasant to bide the centuries among green woods and quiet.
The body is the repository of our dreams of immortality. The spirit wanders. The body settles. It is the sum of our awareness. It alone abides. Or so I sometimes think, but I do not trust nature or time to care for this body. The electrical pulses of this heart have slowed. I continue to believe in every emotion, my heart still beating fiercely, but it will not matter. Eli and Lydia, that lovely name, and all the members of the Lloyd’s, and all the others arranged in rows tell me that. There can be no illusions. This life alone is where we might find a temporary rest, perhaps one achieved through a few hours retreat from the pressure to respond to the besieging network-tide of every message and gigabyte of information.
When the time comes, I hope I can stagger into a hidden stretch of land and give the vultures and foxes the space to make short work of me. I would rather some part of me glides, west to east, under this good sun or lopes across clearings.
And oh, ‘wouldn’t it be pretty to think so.’
Until that moment, another current will not shut down, the one that buzzes with a low, whispering dissatisfaction, the pitiless voice that says there must be more than what has passed, there must be something left to do. That voice defies peace. I am thankful for it.
Leaning against this wall, hungry and thirsty, looking up at the sky, my living body lost wonderfully in the quiet, thinking of the walk across miles to come, I am at peace, the poisons burned away, at rest for the first time in months.