"The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing —
to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from —
my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing,
all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back."

~C.S. Lewis


Friday, March 16, 2012

The lovely prison paths

Life isn’t made for people who go off the roads. The park’s paths were nice, it is true: they had lovely asphalt paving and lovely elderly bridges and lovely helpful signs and were so desperately lovely you couldn’t stand them for more than ten minutes. Too much loveliness and real beauty dies, and there was so much beauty today to absorb.

It was one of those afternoons where the heavens of God come down and touch the meadows of earth, but when I look, the scene glimmers with so much glory I can no longer discern the thread between them, though perhaps there never was one. I walk along the lake, escorted stoically by two Canadian geese, and I see the clear glaze of the water next to the sharp wave of the ice and wonder how both could exist side by side. Winter embraces summer, and we call it spring.

While Minnesota winters confine chatty girls to coffee shops, where they watch lace fall from heaven and feel steam rise from cups, prairie springs push them outside—outside onto the parks and the paths and the light and the sun. White face, pallid arms, ashen hands, we are glowing wraiths, or, perhaps, sleepy caterpillars emerging from our cocoons, ready to be transformed by the kiss of a passionate spring.

We were being kissed scandalously today, for the giggling March weather was playing dress-up in June’s best summer clothes, and my friend and I had made our escape to the park and the paths and that Canadian goose lake, and we were unfurling our mottled monarch wings under the sun’s approving rays. It is good to fly.

But those too-lovely paths keep us uncontrollably safe, for as our words fly along faster and faster (two girls energized by the drug-dealt high of spring), our feet keep having temper tantrums like small children not allowed to touch the glittered toys on the shelf. There is glitter in the fir-laden woods, in the crushed ice water streams, where the hills swoop down to touch the prison paths and beckon their inmates up higher to where the true beauty lies. But there are no paths there where the sunshine is mottled and the breeze is shy—no paths, that is, unless you listen for them.

Yet, somehow, we hear them calling. In the midst of our riveting discussions of Jurassic Park’s dinosaurs and Harry Potter love scenes, suddenly, we stop. To our right, or our left, or perhaps we just imagined it, there is a small famished trail, starved for eyes to see its beauty. It is our duty to rescue it, no? I point to the lonely path (Harry Potter temporarily forgotten) and pronounce it an epic place to sojourn, and with a dramatic recitation of Frost’s poem—after all, the trail does make all the difference—we flit off into the sweet spiced warmth of this unknown woodchip path.

Yet it is sobering to walk on the dead. Those sacrificed trees remain largely untrodden, forced to turn their graveyard path into a mountain range. Our speaking slows as butterflies turn to sherpas who now wish for too-tight snowshoes to float them over these foothills of Everest. Through our sandals bites the dying wood, needles of penance punishing us for going off the Lovely Paths, spearing through thin soles and uncalloused feet.

But pain is part of beauty. Onward we move through it, until dead trodden tree bits turn to dead soon-living dirt clods, and we finally enter Narnia. The snow’s dripping music sings off the birches, causing the startled trilling chickadee to harmonize too loudly and wake the water nymph, whose leap touches us with a spray of hope. Spring is coming. The Lion must have shaken his mane.