We are told that it’s a good thing to go off and discover yourself. We are encouraged to take the road less traveled, to go where others won’t, “But he that dares not grasp the thorn/ Should not crave the rose,” etc. etc. and etc.
However, there’s a problem with the Jesus model of going out into the wilderness, and it’s this: If you leave in order to seek, and you find that which you’re seeking, you return a changed person–all well and good, except that the people you return to are the same. And whereas you look at them with new eyes, they look at you with old.
And when you return unwilling to stumble back into the traces, blinkered, you quickly realize that the place they were saving for you has been taken, that the light they said they’d keep on has been turned off. The unwinding has happened and now, where there was once a comfy and well-fitting sweater, the only thing that anyone sees is a tangled skein of yarn.
I have ridden my bike a lot, more than most, over the last 57 years, and it has never really failed me. Nor does it fail me now.
Yesterday I rode over to Kernville, planning to take the as-yet-unridden Sierra Way back over to Lake Isabella and then home. A few miles along I found a Forest Service road that looked like it might lead to the river, so I took it, and it did. At the dead end I turned around and found another sandy track which led to another dead end bordering a thicket of dried brambles. After a half-mile’s hard march, pushing my bike over the dried limbs and dragging it through the thorns, I paused, winded, my ankles cut, trying to spy out the way back.
I recalled a fragment of this poem by Stephen Crane, which I’ll print below in full.
The wayfarer,Stephen Crane, “The Wayfarer”
Perceiving the pathway to truth,
Was struck with astonishment.
It was thickly grown with weeds.
“Ha,” he said,
“I see that none has passed here
In a long time.”
Later he saw that each weed
Was a singular knife.
“Well,” he mumbled at last,
“Doubtless there are other roads.”
Doubtless there are, but I prefer them not.
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