Long days. Too much everything. At the end of this day, despite the late hour and approaching darkness, I call my dog and head to Stoney Pond, not for the run I missed, but for a long walk. The trouble with troubles is that the mind races, preventing solution—or at least working against one.
We start the walk—a calm, peaceful night, the scent of moisture in the air, the weather warm before an approaching cold front. My dog races about, sometimes straining the 26’ retractable leash, sniffing about, sometimes digging furiously until I call her.
I’m thinking about the hour I wasted before we left. My college has embraced something called “Strengths Quest” as a tool for students and faculty. I was handed my access code a few months ago. Although I rolled my eyes at the presentation two months ago, I finally decided to log on.
Good grief. Who are these clowns?
Two unseen geese take off honking, warning the others of our approach.
Two of my “five strengths” aren’t even words—“Ideation” and “Intellection” [I swear—I’m serious—that’s their taxonomy]. Two others (and notice these labels aren’t even parallel) simply repeated my answers to the ridiculous questions: “Strategic” and “Learner”. The fifth took what I said and bizarrely exaggerated on no evidence: “Maximizer.” The off-shoot of all this is that I like to take time to think and plan, that I’m good at absorbing information and readily seek it as needed, and that I build on my strengths rather than obsess about weaknesses. [Well, duh, yeah---]
Then consider the hundreds of areas the brain-trusts who designed this atrocity simply ignored. Arggh. This is scholarship? No wonder colleges can’t achieve demonstrable results (except in artificial areas measured by arbitrary vehicles such as this nonsense).
An eerie sound dominates the walk, like a cicada invasion (but it’s too early for insects), or more like a science fiction film. Actually, it’s frogs, peepers, so many that the sound just meshes together into a spooky, constant barrage, an effect amplified by the evening quiet and the rapidly darkening sky. A little further along the path, another sound slips underneath, more frogs, but croakers this time. I know what will happen, and it does. As we approach a side pond, home to the croakers, the sound abruptly stops, almost as suddenly as throwing off a switch. Amazing. The peepers continue.
Across the water, somebody’s in the campground. A radio plays rock music. Lights shine.
I think about the book I’m reading, a book I first read several years ago, Hesse’s “The Glass Bead Game.” I’m teaching it in my sophomore literature class. Now, of course, I see several things I missed the first time I read it, including the themes of his other novels and the playful irony of the work. It speaks to me as much now as it did then—no doubt in large part because Hesse and I share an interest in music and Eastern philosophy (though the book involves much more than just that). I’ve always remembered this passage, one I accidentally turned directly to when flipping pages:
“This landscape of clouds and sky. At first glance you might think that the depths are there where it is darkest; but then you realize that the darkness and softness are only the clouds and that the depths of the universe begin only at the fringes and fjords of this mountain range of clouds—solemn and supreme symbols of clarity and orderliness. The depths and the mysteries of the universe lie not where the clouds and blackness are; the depths are to be found in the spaces of clarity and serenity.”
We come around the “corner” of Stoney Pond, leaving the woods to walk along the water, approaching the campground. The music has softened considerably. People (three?) walk about with flashlights. Another goose honks, flying across the water.
The peepers are loud now. We walk to the shore. Abruptly, eerily, the peepers suddenly just stop. Silence. No music. No wind. No birds. No sound at all.
The sky is cloudy—cold front approaching. In the darkness, I look for a place to cross the watershed to the road by the campground. Eventually, I realize this will simply mean I have to get my feet wet. I go for what rocks I can see, none of them dry, but better than wading into rushing water over my ankles. I slosh through the mud on the other side, slipping at times. At least I’m wearing think wool socks.
A small fire and a Coleman lantern light the campsite, one now devoid of sound and visible people. My dog and I walk by, silently.
The night is warm. Peaceful. I used to get away to the mountains for a day at a time, and always found it gradually cleared my thinking. Why did I stop? Busy schedule, I guess—and since I moved to the country, I don’t feel the same need to “get away” that I did in the city, even in the well-wooded residential area. Maybe I should anyway. Dunno. Not that easy.
When I reach the car, I’m not done walking. I walk past along the road for a bit, intending to double back. As the road climbs, though, the character of the forest and the air changes, more dry, lighter but also “desolate” in a relative sense. I turn back and drive home.