Outdoor Adventure: Looking beyond the horizon
I sat out back the other evening; Sunday, I think it was. Hot day giving it up to a warm evening; sun going down in the west and the leading edge of dark coming up from the east. This was the time of balance – light in the west, dark in the east. Heat from the sun, cool shadow. The world stood poised as if on a balance scale waiting for the tilt, for the one plate of the scale to load enough to tip it all, as if the sinking sun would accumulate weight, drop and lift the curtain of darkness.
I was hot and I was tired and I sat down heavy on the lawn chair along the field-rock wall of the garage. I built that wall a few years ago, did it by hand and did it without help, not out of prowess or experience but out of stubbornness. I’d drive to my land, pickup bouncing over rut and rock on a trail rather than a road. I’d back up to the pile of stone; who knows how long it had been there, stacked by the farmer who tried to grow crops where soil was thin and bare and every spring’s optimism was worn down by harvest time.
I’d pause, every time, and look at the rock and think of the farmer and wonder when he knew it would not work, knew in his heart and in his gut that his enterprise was doomed and all the backbreaking work would not change the outcome. I wondered when his balance scale saw the despair rise up as the optimism dropped.
I wondered as well about where the rock came from, what glacial phase rolled it and tumbled it and carried it south; melted and left it buried in the loam for the farmer’s plow to strike it.
Then I’d load the back of the truck with stone and drive it home, slowly, cautiously, as if I was carrying a load of something fragile rather than something solid. At home I’d unload the rock, clean it off, layer it in cement; one rock at a time. Then repeat.
Halfway through the project (and this took several weeks), Sally came out, appraised the work as it was and then said it might be nice if I took a few flat rocks and built them in, flat side up and in so doing make a small shelf.
It was a good idea and I set three or four rocks in that way, spaced out along the length and at various heights. In the morning they hold coffee cups. Now, in the evening, I placed a glass on one, a bottle of beer on another; then sat back.
The beer was cold and the glass was wet as the morning would be wet with dew. The three dogs lay on the grass; the shadows reached out; the air was calm. And I relaxed.
I had read earlier that week (online blog, Facebook, news story, who knows where; one is inundated with so much these days it’s difficult to remember) of a woman who topped off her days by sitting on the porch, feet up on the rail (Facebook! That’s where I saw it; photo of her doing just that headed the page), feet up and glass of wine at hand in the golden light of late afternoon. It was her quiet, contemplative time when she and the hubby would gaze off at a distant mountain to the west as the sun dropped. This was in Colorado, where they do have mountains.
She wrote that she found inspiration in that lofty peak to the west; in that she found challenge and purpose, and seeing it helped her set goals. It was the time that big ideas came to her. And that was all good.
I sat, dogs at my feet, and thought of her as I gazed to the west. There is no mountain to my west, just the rise of house and roof, and it would take a lot of squinting eyes and more than a couple of beers before the peak of the roof took the shape of mountain. I looked there anyway; I did not find inspiration in the view.
And it struck me that when one lives in the Midwest, where horizons are tight and vistas close, that when one lives in the Midwest, one had best have an active imagination to find inspiration in the western sky, for mountains do not rise in majesty and the big sky country of the western states is, well, to the west. A long way to the west.
In the forested land that we call home, imagination can find fertile soil and our thoughts can grow as they may. The horizon is always near; it is our minds and thoughts that must seek the distance. If we look to find big ideas, they do not come from big vistas or mountains in the evening shadow.
But we do what we can and when you think about it, the real big thinkers (and I am not in that company, but I know some who are) the real big thinkers of great thoughts see the horizon, however close, however far, as a limitation. The big thinkers’ minds see over the horizon into the mystery and unknown places. Doesn’t matter if mountains are out there or rooftops; the big minds, the big thinkers, they go over the bend in the earth to find inspiration.
Big minds or not, we deal with the horizons here and the closeness of them. Western friends on visits complain of claustrophobia; the woods and the skyline are too close. We deal with it; it’s what we know. On this evening I deal with three dogs, a sky the color of eggshell, the silhouette of roof peak and on one side the fine lines of a white pine, on the other the etched leaf of oak tree. All this against the fading light.
I beat myself up a bit, for it was a good day to ride and I did not. It was a good day to do a lot of things and I did not. Now evening is falling and big ideas are lacking and at a certain level I don’t much care.
I drink my beer; the sun sets; call of nighthawk above. I call the dogs and go inside for a late dinner. I watch the Tour de France recap on TV; mountains rise against blue sky; the road winds up then down; riders flash in colors and movement; dreams build and die on that day, for to ride in the mountains, let alone to race in the mountains, is fraught with emotion and risk.
Two nights later, we eat dinner outside on the edge of a lake; herons fly in the waning light and colors are vivid; rich green of weed and leaf; blue sky; water that matches. Then color fades to shadow. If we find inspiration in seeing the horizon, we keep it to ourselves. Sun settles low; darkness rises; the balance scale again. Time will bring the tilt; darkness will come.
July is on the wane; even now, nights lengthen ever so little, night by night. Ever so slightly, the balance scale begins to lower to autumn. And beyond. You can sit out in the evening, sit on your deck, sit in your backyard, sit wherever you wish. You can have a glass of wine or a glass of beer, or you can just sit. To the west, the sun will set; you may see it or not; trees or buildings may block the view or you might have a longer, more open view to the horizon edged with trees.
There will be no mountains to see, no loft to inspire or challenge you. If you have big ideas, they will bloom from your imagination in the time when shadows rise to meet the darkness. You may see the balance scale shift; you may feel the ideas raise up in your mind. Then it will be dark and the nighthawks will call, and you will go inside.
And when you are inside, you may think to yourself, “Summer’s passing, and too fast. And there are summer things I want to get done. I’d best not wait.” And that is a big enough idea for a July evening as the heat of the day fades to the cool of the night.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post in downtown Rhinelander. Call (715) 362-5800. To comment on this story, visit StarJournalNow.com.