I snaked my way off the western slopes of the Blue Ridge mountains and headed through West Virginia for a stopover and visit with my brother Bob, a retired football coach in Dayton, Ohio. He and many of his cronies were taking part in a Golf Scramble and I was the guest ‘hacker’. I don’t really play golf…I seem to excel only in a game of hide-and-seek with Golf balls…many of them. Often times I have imagined inventing ones that floated or had micro chips imbedded so they would beep and alert me after their successful avoidance at being found.Thankfully Sal, my brothers good friend from college, was part of our group and a low handicap player. Combined with his abilities and my brothers vastly improved swing, we managed to come in second. Every once in awhile I even managed to sink a putt; my method of keeping eyes closed and then hoping like Hell, brought some success and a wonderful time was had on a beautiful day at the links.
After high school, we only visited every couple of years and as I drove on into the vastness of middle America my mind began to wander as it so often does when driving. In doing so my thoughts have traveled many more miles than ever I have and the next couple of days behind the wheel would be no exception. I reminded myself to remember this outing for such are the small things that matter most and all too frequently I have let them slip away thinking there will always be another time to recreate them. But if I have learned the hardest of lessons it is we are not promised one single thing and it brings to mind one of many conversations I have shared with a close friend about never being able to stand in the same river twice. How ironic, for the thought embeds itself as I cross the Missouri River, the starting point of the five hundred mile long swathe of land known as the Great Plains.
At first, I see it as simply a place to get through; not a place to linger. In some ways I even liken it to a waveless, dead ocean; silent save for the constant breeze which gusts relentlessly across the sage brush. At 65MPH, there is nothing I find of interest; just mundane vistas that I have to put up with. Yet slowly, perhaps due to size alone, its presence does indeed make itself known and spotting a wooden trestle bridge, the first structure I have passed in miles, I find myself compelled to pull over and walk on the dry and brittle sun baked fields that stretch to the horizon.
With my feet on the ground, the great American desert, as it had once been called, reveals itself to be so much more and it proves my minds eye was lacking for what it does not see or pay attention to because without doubt there is much to take in.The Great Plains, now referred to as the heartland, is immense in every way. Flowing grasslands dominated by a huge sky of endless proportions, it causes me to feel an uncomfortable sense of emptiness, even loneliness; reaction perhaps to so much space in every direction and my meager presence within it. But by taking my time as I hike and not rushing past in my vehicle, I become immersed in a landscape complete with varied and numerous blooming desert widflowers, honey mesquite and insects of many shapes and sizes. Off in the distance I even spy what at first glance appears to be white tailed deer grazing, yet it is not so. Zooming in I am rewarded. Bison; Symbol of the Plains themselves!
In a hurry to get to the majestic mountains of the Continental Divide, I surely would have missed the best of opportunities to experience the beautiful reality of where I was. Though smaller in grandeur, staring at what seemed to be the sameness of the Plains, it comes to me gently, almost as a whisper, that I’m living most of my life on a great plain. The day to day moments that seem inconsequential should never be taken for granted. The small daily gestures made by friends and family are to be celebrated; they are not entitlements. The need to understand that genuine repetition of kindly behavior on a daily basis is where life should be lived for that is where the majority of our time is spent. And to get “there”, to arrive at where we want to be….it is best done by using only our own steps. The lesson of the Plains; little by little and paying attention is the time honored method to find ones self.
I set out on a journey across the country seeking adventure and singular moments of grand magnitude and certain am I that I will find them. Yet as seems always the case, it is the small instances that change us each and every day that have the greatest lasting effect. I guess I needed only to choose to slow down long enough to realize it.
Conversations along the way…