Because I'm on vacation due to practical work reasons, I decided to try to get away within the [considerable] limits of my bank account and surroundings. First I looked to Como Zoo, and one brief visit to their website eliminated it as a possibility.
The Enemy: TRAFFIC getting there, having to figure out where to park just to get the SHUTTLE, and being dependent upon the SHUTTLE just to get back to my car so I can deal with TRAFFIC again!
All the Regional parks in the world can't block out the noises of TRAFFIC, CONSTRUCTION, and FLIGHT PATHS, so I don't actually want to pay for a yearly pass to inhabit those trails nearest me, either.
The fact is this: I live in a 'burb and have to suck it up, no matter what. So today I hit a trail near the Mississippi, hoping to get lost in the sounds of solitude and nature, only to be plagued by dogs barking incessantly across the river (seriously, were ALL those people actually home and leaving their dogs to bark at each other all day long? REALLY?)
As is typical for July in Minnesota, it was hot and humid, although not nearly so bad as our 100+ extremes of earlier this week. Still, heat is what it is and as my dog and I walked the paved trail, I sought to escape, even more deeply, the sounds of urbania that refused to allow an oasis.
We came to a graveled trail and I decided to turn that way, thinking it probably would bring us full-circle back to the road. As my dog and I progressed, I looked longingly down shaded deer runs, wishing I could follow them, fondly recalling the days of my youth when those trails had appeared as highways through the forest where we resided.
The heat and humidity, even mid-morning, was terrible, though, and I regretted what I was wearing. I glanced often at my dog, knowing that although her fur afforded a certain insulation, it was no match for the growing humidity and I hoped we would both make it to the car in time..especially given the fact we were padding along trails I did not know. Were we TRULY headed back to the road, or only deeper into the forest?
For a short time, my quest for silence was granted. I heard the songs of the birds, and even in the ever-oppressing heat and humidity, there was joy in the silence and solitude of nature; a memory of the type of trails I'd grown up trekking.
Even the hot sunlight reminded me of childhood and I longed for those days, brought from my reverie only by the panting of my companion, knowing she was just as thirsty, or even more so, than I.
I didn't know where we were going or what it would take to get there, I only knew we had to get home, and this trail was the way. Relief could ONLY be found when we returned to our source.
No matter what we do, there is a parallel to the spiritual life.
Today, walking the trails, I knew that my sense of suspension of time was locked in the objective reality of eternity. I led my dog through light and shadows and suffered the pain in my feet, my knees, my ankle, old injuries, exacerbated by time and the basic discomfort of our summer climate.
Even with the joy of walking through the woods, moments of time without the sound of urban noise, I suffered. I sweated, I wilted, I hated the heat and humidity. I worried about my dog, how she was doing, hoping we'd get back as I'd planned before it got to be too much for her.
I loved our time today; it was beautiful, it was timeless, and it involved suffering; but because of the beauty and the joy, I would suffer the same way again and again, willingly, because the suffering is transient; the beauty is eternal.
There is another facet as well; my dog was also suffering the same heat, and my concern in our walk was for her. Although I would have liked to walk further, I knew that wouldn't be good for Her Fuzziness; it made me ponder.
As we grow in holiness, as we walk these dappled trails, more and more, we come to recognize and identify with, then join with the sufferings of others. While uniting my suffering to that with a dog is not redemptive, it DOES point to that which is, and reveals, ever more deeply, the mercy of God for all His creation.
Throughout life, we experience a dichotomy of suffering and joy, and as we progress, we find that no matter what we experience, we grow in concern for our neighbor. We can't always help them immediately, and often, we're aware that we need help, too, but that never stops us from sharing in the suffering, in sharing the joy of following Our Lord.
May our entire lives be an experience of the dappled trails of a Minnesota forest; holiness beckons.