Skyline, Summer - 2005

By Diane Pendola

Abandon All Roads

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            Once upon a time there was a poet who found herself walking upon a country road. The road rose and fell with the gentle terrain of the surrounding land. It was the first day of summer and the grasses were wild and moving down and up the hillsides as though a living breath parted the way before them. There were groves of Oak trees contrasting their branching canopies of dark leaves against the fields of green light. Quilts formed of small white wildflowers with crossed purple hearts, golden-pedaled poppies and extravagant lupines lay tossed about like patchwork blankets. Marching up spring-fed canyons, where in winter the water swells and falls in torrents, Pine trees ascended to the ridges where they spread out in evergreen grandeur against the swept horizon.

            The poet stopped at the crest of a hill overlooking all this lushness. She looked out over the land and found herself wanting to leave the road, to enter the land more intimately. And as she looked, and as her heart longed towards the Ponderosa Pines, her mind began to form something that was not quite a thought, not quite an image, but akin to a marriage of the two. "That line of Pines... she mused, is the first line of the poem..." Not that she had been thinking of a poem. In fact, she had not been thinking at all. Rather, it was a "beingness" that came over her, a sense that the Pines and the Poem and Herself were all one continuum of being, sharing an identity even in diversity. "The first line of the poem is the line of Pines. The body of the poem is the land. The body of the land is the poem." The image of trees and land and poem began to coalesce in her body as the words began to form in her mind.

            But suddenly, she was no longer on the crest of the hill overlooking the beautiful countryside. Instead she had lost herself on a dark road, inside of a gate, posted with a sign that read "KEEP OUT" and another that said "PRIVATE PROPERTY". She had passed through the gate and was standing on someone else's ground. She had believed this to be the access road to the line of Pines, to the first line of the poem. But this road felt guarded and uninviting. She stopped in her tracks. What stopped her? She had no permission slip, no identification papers, no right of passage, no authorization to be here on someone else's property. Did fear of being caught stop her? Fear of punishment? Fear of confrontation with the unseen guardian of the gate? Or was the fear inside of her? Fear of the unknown? Fear of what lay ahead? Or was it fear at all? How was it she had come to be on this dark forbidding road, full of rules, of caveats and the contrivances of proprietorship? Who was this controlling access to the land that called her, the poem that lay like a life-line of trees whose roots bore down into her very core?

            Maybe it was neither fear nor doubt nor her inadequacy that stopped her. Maybe it was the land itself. Maybe it was the trees calling. Maybe it was her knowing that this was the wrong road. If this were the only access road to the Love that called her, maybe she should abandon all roads. She turned inward toward her love, and the trees called and they said:

Come to us. Come on your own two feet, on your own strong legs. Come cross-country, without roads, without trails, come. We will be your signposts, your lodestars. Keep your eye on us and you will find your way. Do not be afraid. Come. The Poem and the Pines say, come. The Land says, come. Do not be afraid, just come.

Then the poet left the road. She left the private road with the KEEP OUT sign. And she left the public road that so many travel to this day. She followed the call of the trees. She disappeared into the land.

If you happen to be traveling one of these roads,

           if you listen carefully,

if you become very still inside,

                                   and for a moment rest in a continuum of being

where poem and pine and person meet,

Just there

            you might hear her voice rise to greet you

                        like a living breath

parting the green grasses

                                                of your own red sea.




Speaking of a red sea, do you remember the story of Exodus: the story of Moses leading the people of Israel out of the oppression and slavery of Egypt? After their escape, when the Israelites found themselves cornered by Pharaoh's army on the banks of the Red Sea, they asked Moses, Were there no graves in Egypt that you must lead us out to die in the wilderness? What good have you done us, bringing us out of Egypt? We spoke of this in Egypt, did we not? Leave us alone, we said. We would rather work for the Egyptians! Better to work for the Egyptians than die in the wilderness.

They had no idea the seas would part for them, that they would make the crossing safely. They were afraid. And so are we afraid. I feel that in our time and across our planet, we are facing a similar moment of truth. Whatever the institutional framework we work within, whether it be government, education, healthcare, agriculture, religion, even the arts, we find ourselves at the threshold of transformational change that necessitates a leap of faith, a leap into the unknown. Acquiescence to the oppressive status quo may give us a sense of security, but it is erosive to our souls whose true territory is freedom, not safety. Yet safety is a temptation: Better to work for the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness, the people made this response to Moses out of their fear, their lack of vision and imagination, their lack of faith. Who are the Egyptians in our own time, our own age? With whom have we made the Machiavellian trade?

Moses responded saying, Have no fear. This fearlessness is always being asked of us if we are to become more than we already are-more loving, more compassionate, more fully human. We are always being asked to enter the unknown with no guarantee that any sea will part for us. And yet if we continue on this side of the known, let us at least recognize the road we are traveling: the road of vanishing species and over-population, the road that widens the gap between rich and poor, the road that diminishes the planet and threatens life itself.

How do we find the courage to re-imagine ways of being human? How do we honor our common roots in the earth? How do we reverence the divine breath that unites us as relatives to all life forms? The leap of faith is a leap into that living breath that encourages us to have no fear. It invites us to abandon all roads, for the new creative path our own hearts long to beat upon the untrodden earth.

For me, that leap is into the land and the woods and the community of life, both human and other-than-human, where I live. It is an entrance into the world of the Ponderosa Pine and the Incense Cedar, the mountain lion screaming from the rocky northeast ridge at dawn and the rattlesnake riveting my attention into the immediate present at noon. It is the risk of relationship with the wilderness we have feared. It is the corresponding surrender to love, which that relationship requires. And it is love that leads to the death of what separates us, into the new life of what unites us.

It speaks through me in a poetry that the University may not abide, but which the Universe celebrates. It is a leap into humility, the roots of the word itself deriving from the Latin, humus, meaning ground, soil, that rich mixture of organic matter from which all life has been fashioned. It means remembering who I am, made from this earth. It means being faithful to that from which I came, trusting that the living breath that breathed life into this mortal frame will part the red seas before me--if only I have courage enough to set off upon the journey.

We are not lacking in the dynamic forces needed to create the future.

We live immersed in a sea of energy beyond all comprehension.

But this energy, in an ultimate sense, is ours, not by domination

but by invocation.


-Thomas Berry-

©Diane Pendola, June 2005. You are welcome to print or make a copy in electronic form for personal use or sharing with interested persons as long as the copyright notice is not removed or altered. Please do not print it in any other publication, or sell it, by itself or as part of another work, without express written permission of the author. Thank you!

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