Move Freely

Preparing for the Promised Land, January 27, 2014

Some people save and pray their whole lives with a dream of visiting the Holy Land.  It was different with me.  One day my wife came home and said “Part of my new job is to visit the Holy Land with new ordinands (new pastors).  I get to bring someone for free.  Wanna come with me?”

Of course I do.  It’s the Holy Land.  I was talking about Jerusalem long before I knew a visit required a plane and a passport.  I’ve always wondered if Jesus and I sat on rocks the same way, squinted across the horizon at the sunrise with the same awe, listened for bird calls with the same curiosity.  What better way to know about Jesus than to sit on those same rocks facing the same sun hearing those same birds?  Yes, of course I dream of visiting the Holy Land.  But because I have stumbled upon the Promised Land I’m afraid I am ill-prepared for what I will find.

Our first night we will be in Tiberias.  What do I know about Tiberias?  Nothing.  Open the Israel tour book published by Globetrotter, page 101:

Galilee’s main holiday centre is the lakeside town of Tiberia, famous for its curative hot springs.

I see gleaming white hotels, palm trees…and a water slide.  Holy Land?

Open Ari Shavit’s 2013 book My Promised Land:  The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, page 402:

I journey on from Mount Tabor to Tiberias…I drive further south, crossing the Jordan River and reaching the southern edge of the lake.  Here Degania, the world’s first kibbutz, tried to combine utopia, commune life, and colonialism.  A breathtaking human experiment was carried-out on this lakeshore:  to invent a democratic version of communism that would save the Jews.

Holy Land.

What will prepare me to see Degania beyond the water slide?  I am part of a tour group and that will help.  I will be with colleagues who insist we think of this not as a tour but as pilgrimage and of ourselves not as tourists but pilgrims.  That will help as well.  And I’ll bring a Bible.  A little one, but not too small, you know?  Both testaments.  But what transforms this from a happy accident into a breathtaking human experiment?

The flight departs Boston at 5:30pm Sunday.


Concord River, MA June 23, 2012

We spotted Great Blue Herons, Painted Turtles, carp, squirrels the size of beavers, enormous families of geese, muskrat and squadrons of swifts on this secluded path along the Meadows north of North Bridge.  You know…THE North Bridge over the Concord, site of the “shot heard round the world.”

The paddle was tedious and the weather was hot, so this vid. shows Evan seated with me in my kayak, towing his.  You’ll also see the North Bridge from the water.  The launch off of Lowell Street is just around the bend.  FRee launch site there; don’t pay $5 per kayak to launch just up river at the outfitter there.  They charge $80 per day for kayak rentals!  $80?!

Cape Cod Rail Trail, June 20, 2012

The CCRT gets  much attention in publications but the Shining Sea Trail is neglected on maps and travel guides.  Too bad, because we enjoyed this trail between Falmouth and Wood’s Hole more than we did the rather mundane trip between Rt. 6 and Nickerson State Park on the CCRT.  There are two good sized parking lots in Falmouth (and a nearby bike shop).  The trail extends beyond Falmouth, but given the 90 degree heat of the day we opted for the shorter route hoping for some water access.  We got it!  The pebbled beach leading to aqua-marine water reminded me of the Mediterranean beach in Nice, France.

Father’s Day, 2012

We biked part of the Wachusett Greenway which connects our town of Holden and Rutland.  Superb variety!  100-foot-high vistas over lovely lakes.  Rich, primmordial-ooze swamp land!  Fragrant evergreens!  Moss-covered, glistening-wet canyons of stone!

We pedaled a ten-mile roudtrip segment between the Parking area on Glenwood Street and the place where the “Mid-State Trail” bisects the path.  It was mostly downhill from the lot to the trail making this a fun one-way ride for smaller kids.

“… in the distant woods or fields, in unpretending sprout-lands or pastures tracked by rabbits, even in a bleak and, to most, cheerless day, like this, when a villager would be thinking of his inn, I come to myself, I once more feel myself grandly related, and that cold and solitude are friends of mine. I suppose that this value, in my case, is equivalent to what others get by churchgoing and prayer. I come home to my solitary woodland walk as the homesick go home. I thus dispose of the superfluous and see things as they are, grand and beautiful. I have told many that I walk every day about half the daylight, but I think they do not believe it. I wish to get the Concord, the Massachusetts, the America, out of my head and be sane a part of every day.”

– Thoreau’s Journal, January 7, 1857

Purgatory Chasm, Sutton, MA.

A walk around Purgatory Chasm in Sutton, MA today, November 15, 2011.  An obnoxious, orange, laminated sign informs me the chasm is closed today because of storm damage.  Closed?  Is this a bank on holiday?  Closed?  Fools are forever rescued on the sides of snow-battered slopes and storm-drenched seas and here I am discouraged from entering at my own risk a menacingly named park in which the devil himself is buried?

I had to drive ten miles to the Chasm.  On the way I am shocked by a State Police Trooper standing halfway into one lane summoning a speeding Subaru to the side of the road for punishment.  He is driving 60 mph along this highway 146 and I follow along behind him in my Honda–two clouds drifting on the jet stream we travel, except the radar gun indicts him for disobeying the posted limit of 50mph.  Terrified by the savage shark attack I have just witnessed, I am paralyzed into driving 30.  Then I feel fortunate, for am the school fish the feeding Trooper-shark missed today. Until now I’ve considered such traffic stops analogous to ocean food-chains, regrettable but natural.  But no more.  I now consider the posted limits on roads and nature trails less a child of the social contract and more unnatural regulation.

A 50 mph speed-limit protects what exactly?  Residents of nearby homes entering the highway from a dead-stop?  No, there are no houses here but rather sporadic businesses.  The businesses require slower traffic, but why?  To protect cars as they exit?  Or to increase the likelihood of entrance–and commerce–from a highway?  Or is it a “speed trap” meant to fill monthly State Police quotas?  Is that why the shark was hiding at a bend in the road where the Subaru and I could not see him until it was too late and his jaws locked around the bumper?

This orange warning may seek my protection, but it may also protect from legal action the Department of Conservation which maintains this area.  What do they care if a grown man falls prostrate under a cracked limb after a storm as easily as the same man might find himself trapped in the so-called “Fat Man’s Misery” chasm any other day?  They are responsible for the limbs but not the rock?  No, I am responsible for my path.

I walk past the warnings and at last I am free to watch auburn oak leaves spiral down rock ledges  into still, coffee-black, ponds.  I am free to hear the sounds of wood peckers and squirrels and the crunch of twigs under my boots.  I bend low under fallen branches on the yellow path, I scramble across boulders on blue and I make my own way across logs which long-ago bridged a way to Little Purgatory and gentle water falls.

I understand why Thoreau considered boundaries such as “Concord” and “Massachusetts” and “America” madness.  The plastic, yellow tape stretched across the entrance of the chasm belongs in the same asylum.  Today this stream reminded me that I am “grandly related” not to a family of mechanical fish or litigation-happy tourists but to Gaia herself.

One Response “Move Freely” →

  1. Jennifer

    January 29, 2014

    Wow! You’ve come a long way in your blogging! This is nice– very poetic. I look forward to reading about your trip. Interesting… as I read I thought, “This is very ‘Walden-esque,'” and now I see your Thoreau reference under the last photo. I’m quite impressed.


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