I love this story: When the first film with sound was shot, there wasn’t any dialogue—it was all music. The Jazz Singer staring Al Jolson was all music, with even some placards like those used in silent films still held up for some dialogue. But you could hear the music. But right before the very end Jolson turns from the music and looks right into the camera and says, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”
There’s hardly any reason for that story. I just thought of it for some reason when out walking with Michael today. We walked through Belle Island State Park. We parked near the camp store just past the Belle Mansion, and walked about six miles through their trails, to the Rappahannock River, out across marshes and fields, through new-growth forest areas, back along fields of clover and Black-Eyed Susans, and to the old red barn near where we started.
We noted to each other sites the other might have missed. He pointed out the rabbit (I told him, “They seem so defenseless. It’s too bad they don’t have better defenses or camouflage. The white tail is a dead giveaway. They need something.” “Like poison spit,” he suggested. And that’s how I see rabbits now). I pointed out some herons, and while there is plenty of wildlife in the area, today we didn’t see much. Bird life (osprey, heron, cuckoos, the helpless rabbits). We talked about the day, the cumulus clouds, the deep blue sky, the breeze. We talked about art and guitars and briefly about the Camino. I recalled the time in Roncevalles, Spain, just across the Pyrenees, and how when sitting at a bar I mentioned to a local man that I hadn’t expected that previous day to be so brutally uphill. He smiled and said, “The next several days aren’t so bad at all. You’ll be fine.” The next several days were almost as brutal—the first four days, in fact, up until we were nearly in Pamplona, were the toughest days of the entire pilgrimage. On one of those days, after a long silence walking along vistas no one should ever miss, Michael said, “Maybe ‘aren’t so bad after all’ means something different to someone who lives in the Pyrenees than it does to someone who lives on a beach.”
Anyway, that crossed my mind today and made us laugh as we trekked along at a decent clip on flat land. We’ve logged some miles, him and me. When he was very young we would walk from the house to the river, and after not very far at all he’d run right in front of me, his arms out to the sides like wings, and not say a word, waiting for me to heave him onto my shoulders, which, of course, I did all the time until the time I couldn’t. But we still walked.
And Spain of course. And the hills around Lake Baikal, and dozens of miles in all the towns and cities along the way.
So when Covid settled in he pulled out some maps of the local state parks and we started exploring them all, amazed at their beauty, amazed at how no one was ever out there. We brought masks with us just in case we ran into someone but never had to get them out.
Today we laughed a lot, talked, and just admired the scenery as anyone would. I don’t know what else might have been going on in his mind—he’s twenty-seven, so I probably don’t want to know. But I know what was going on in mine; that is, I will remember very clearly many of my thoughts today while Michael was shooting pictures and I was watching the skies as we walked along grassy paths.
I turn sixty in two days.
I thought about my life, my days in Arizona, New England, Pennsylvania, abroad. My decades as a professor, my childhood, my teen years and some of the people I knew then. I thought about how some of the most important people in different stages of my life are gone, and how other friends without whom I could not survive are still a dominant part of my life and always will be, I hope. I am lucky, I am fortunate, I am aware of all the best of what I have had through these six decades, these seven hundred and twenty months, these two hundred and forty seasons.
I’ve heard people say they have no regrets. Ha, well I do. Plenty. I would have been kinder to people and more patient. There are two or three events in particular I wish never happened and one or two times I wish I had more balls. Some say things are meant to be; some say things happen for a reason; I know all the arguments, I really do—but for me it’s simpler than that—I should have done some things differently, it’s that simple.
But in the end, especially on a day like this, if anything would have been done differently, I might not be at this spot today, writing about this day, and that makes it all worthwhile.
I don’t have a bucket list; I never have. I like Robert Redford’s idea that “I just dropped the B and put an F and went back to bed.” I think a bucket list would be too depressing, too finite. What if I ran through it all quickly? Add to it? I’d assume it would have already had the best things in there, so that’s not going to work.
No, instead I just think about fitting things into my life based upon drive, money, and time. I want to ride my bike to the west coast (I need a bike). I want to hike the AT (I need a map). I want to hike around Ireland and train across Canada. I want to start a small writers’ retreat here at Aerie. I want to ride horses in the Rockies. On and on and on…
But the one thing I am definitely going to do is the Camino again. I wanted to do it this summer, and while it would be easy to blame it on Covid, other factors made it a non-starter before this pandemic popped up. I’ll get there. My “plan” is to do the Camino every five years until I can’t. We’ll see. I also want to camp in Oregon, go back to Mexico, see Arles, drive to Long Island.
And I suppose as long as I can walk, I can walk nearly anywhere. “Everything’s in walking distance if you have enough time,” Steven Wright tells us.
Look, I know it’s the end of the third quarter for me. I get that. But I’ve spent the better part of this game out on the field; I rarely felt like I was benched in all these years. So my plan is to get as much game time as possible in this last quarter. If I’m lucky like my father was and my mother is, I’ll get some overtime, but that’s not important; what is important is that I, as James Taylor aptly wrote, “walk on if you’re walking even if it’s an uphill climb.”
When my father was my age I was managing a health club for Richard Simmons and spending all of my money on plane tickets and gasoline. But when my mother was my age I was a brand new father; she’s still with us and mostly doing fine– since my son’s entire life ago. Today she won at cornhole by throwing four bags in a row through the hole. When I think of that, and of all the days from my son’s birth to now since she was my age, and lay them out before me, I am restless with excitement for the places I can go, the help I can be, the love I can share, the new stories—oh the new stories.
Metaphor Call Back: Just when you think it’s over, someone turns and reminds you that you ain’t seen nothing yet.
But, seriously, it’s the walking. I like the pace, I like the patience needed, the way it calms me down and makes me less anxious, less angry and uncertain. I like how a good hike lets me talk with someone and remain quiet, both. I like how I feel at the end of the walk, the hike, the climb, when I have a glass of wine or just a glass of water, and the breeze brushes my sweat and cools me off a bit, and part of me wants to sit and rest but the better part of me wants to just keep going. Just keep going.
Yeah, that’s my game plan for the fourth quarter. Just keep moving the ball downfield.