As I neared the completion of another trip around the sun, Tracey asked me where I wanted to go on my birthday this year. “Home,” I replied.
We exited the house early that morning and walked in the forest that surrounds us. Endless blue sky and crystalline air framed the prismatic proof of the Creator’s handiwork. Trees which knew nothing of this year’s predictions of peak color slowed our pace in frequent pauses to admire. In the perfect stillness of an exquisite fall day, in the crunch of leaves, the loquacious chattering of the creek, every breath was a prayer of gratitude.
Deep in the woods there is a moss-covered old stack of rocks, all that remains of a homestead. A family was born here. Children played, laughed and cried, and dreamed of what might be outside their isolated little cove hidden away beneath the tall hickories. Sometimes, when it is very quiet, you can still hear their voices in the babble of the creek and the rustle of the leaves.
Every one of those children has passed on now, and their grandchildren are starting families of their own. Few will ever return to the mouldering pile of rocks where their family took root, or even think of it amidst the worries and distractions of the Pixel Age. But for a brief time, it was the most important place on earth for those to whom it was home and hearth.
To the mountain, we ephemerals pass by like the breeze, almost unnoticeable were it not for the scars we leave behind. The mountain remembers other generations that hoped and dreamed on its shoulders. If you dig beneath the rocks of the old chimney, you might find an arrowhead, or a bit of soapstone shaped by a hand lost in the dreamtime of eons past. It was a hand identical to ours, moved by a spirit that hoped and feared and struggled as we do. It reached out to caress, or to strike a blow in anger. It wondered, as we do, “Why am I here,” and “What else is there?” The answers to those questions, and every other concern of that forgotten soul, gone like the mist that disappears in the morning sun.
There are many places on earth where the collective ambitions of people long gone have left more noticeable evidence of their concerns. Pyramids and tombs and things carved in stone, things quarried and smelted and shaped have stood the test of time to pass along their stories. There are hints in language and untold stories in our genes. But for most of humanity, our stories are lost, absorbed into the compost of the ages.
And what of our civilization? What will survive of our preoccupation and pride? We have forgotten how to shape stone. We ended the age of the printing press by making books that dissolved into pulp. No rolled parchments will be found in clay jars to tell future generations our story. Our sheet metal buildings will rust into the ground, but not before our particle board walls have turned to dust. Every pixel of the virtual world into which we pour out the essence of our beings can disappear with one mad finger on the button of destruction, and into the mist of electrons will go all our politics, every one-name celebrity, every “influencer,” fad and fashion. Gone forever.
If we do survive to pass on our genes, what will future archaeologists find? In all likelihood the forensic investigation of thick, widely scattered layers of garbage, plastic bottles and toxic chemicals will tell our story. What name will be given to the layer of pollution and radiation future geologists will find between layers of ash?
Questions to ponder but fading quickly in the warm sunshine. A better question is what to do with the time that is given us, as we mark our next personal journeys around the sun. I’m tempted to make a pile of rocks somewhere deep in the woods, learn to carve an arrowhead, or scratch my name on a stone, but that would be vanity and vexation. Better to enjoy the beauty of the day and attend to the soul to which this beauty has been given.