This is not where I went on Sunday but for some reasons I'm not finding any reasonably good photographs and I didn't take any. I was too busy walking. And listening. I did a lot of listening. He had a lot to say. He cannot be the only steward of this place; for example, he is not responsible for the multiple acres of moss gardens which appear to spring up effortlessly, nor is he solely responsible for the maintenance of the cabins and other outbuildings and yet his knowledge of the place and the way he speaks of it indicate the sort of ownership that generally comes with the responsibility of at least keeping it safe if not maintained. He says the words, 'my cabin' when indicating something which is not rented out because it is too precariously constructed on a bit of ledge with a twenty foot drop just outside the entrance. The threshold is maybe three or four feet at best. My vertigo kicked in while he worked at keeping the door shut on the way out. His cabin needs a great deal of work to bring it back to a viable state but I understand its charms. It has been built right into the rock. I'd want to stay there too.
We spent two hours wandering the property after having spent close to forty-five minutes in his small home talking about that very viable part of the small farmhouse he's in, it's history, what he'd really like to do with it to bring in more light, and a painting he made when he was nine which hangs on the wall and is nearly inexplicable in it's detail and control. He should be in art school if he's going to go back at all which I expect he will because he wants to and he can. Periodically my line of vision drops to a table which holds all of the indications you might expect to come with a search and rescue career in the military. Patches, wings, insignia, he talks about trying to figure out what the tattoo would look like if he had a three quarter sleeve installed which represented the way he felt about his patriotism and I cannot reconcile this with the words I hear coming from the man I am looking at and the cottage I'm standing in and he's talking about the subtle differences in paint colors I'd never even notice.
Later as we're walking down a hill and I've laughingly said I eat what I kill (in the context of chickens for the most part), he asks if I shoot. I don't hear it that way. I hear, do you shoot and I answer that I can but it's been a very long time. He asks the question again and I understand it's a defining question. I tell him I would given the opportunity and depending on the circumstances but that I don't or would not personally carry a firearm. There are different grades or interpretations or expectations or something of the second amendment. We don't actually have any additional conversation on the subject. I'm left with the dubious impression that I've passed some sort of test but that may only have been curiosity. I decide to assume nothing; there's really no point.
We traverse what feels like approximately ten acres. The only unit with which I have to measure is the six acre farm I lived on when I was married to Lucia and Mike's father. It feels like that and two thirds more. I am wearing a coat purchased specifically for hiking but of the sort where you don't stop as frequently as we did and so I am often cold. I am gloveless because at 43F with constant movement I do not need gloves or a hat. I feel like an idiot because I can always peel layers and pocket gloves. I have made the mistake of setting current expectations based on prior experience. When I get too cold I tell him I need to move again and apologize for not dressing appropriately. We have not been stopping because he needs to rest, we are stopping because there is so much to look at. This place is a bloody miracle. He has only been here for two years but he sounds as if he's been embedded in the moss and ledge and the trees for a lifetime.
It occurs to me that I don't know any soldiers who have come out of active duty without permanent rough edges of some sort. Maybe this is what happens when you disappear into the moss.
I ask specifically about the labyrinth because I at least want to see it. I don't know that I have it in me to walk the thing because it isn't mine and what will he think if I walk this thing in a meditative state, kneeling at the center, bowing forward, hands in namaskar before standing and backing out until I can turn and find the exit. In the end we walk it in parallel because I do not quite understand the path and while I think I know which path is in and which is out, I am not one hundred percent certain. He enters what turns out to be a somewhat complex exit and I begin what I believe is and turns out to be the entrance. I arrive first and he comes after me once it is clear that he needs to begin again.
Before we start I pick up two sticks and tell him he needs to leave an offering at the center. It can be anything as long as it is meaningful. He looks at the stick and looks back at me confused. I tell him by the time he gets to the center the stick will have meaning. My mind is cluttered and I am walking too fast but there really isn't any right way to do this; I don't care what you read or hear. You are where you are and what's in your head is what's in your head. When I get to the end I kneel and place my stick on a large, round, flat stone. It's just my humanity. That's all, no big deal. I realize as I'm walking out this may have been the cleanest walk I've ever made through a labyrinth. He is doing something as he walks but I can't quite tell what. As he comes to the center he says something like, it's not ready. I tell him there's no such thing. He is there. He has been whittling his stick through his walk.
He does not kneel down, he does not bend forward and place his hands in namaskar; he simply places the totem on the stone and walks back out. I am grateful for his honesty. What is real for one person is not always real for another. We each take communion in our own separate ways.
His forest is and is not like mine. Mine is a fern forest. It is left to its own devices and so what grows up from the forest floor is a blanket of ferns with moss and lichen at its borders and on rocks, trees, and uncovered things. In his forest the moss is cultivated. If you didn't know to look for it you wouldn't understand how it came to be. If you look you can see that the leaves have been blown off the moss carpets to the edges and down to the wide gravel paths. You can walk on the moss if you keep your feet flat and don't dig in although it will invariably repair itself as long as you don't cause egregious harm. The cabins are mostly rented by people from New York. Brooklyn, he tells me. People from Brooklyn looking for as rustic as you can get without going as far as a tent on the forest floor. Sometimes the Brooklyn people try to take sheets of the moss home with them and they find carefully cut patches and shake their heads. It takes more work to keep moss going around a potted houseplant than it does to keep the houseplant alive.
I don't know where this is going. I am well aware that trying to figure out where anything is going after three hours is just short of ridiculous. I want his hip to be better so he can come to my forest and help me find that damn ledge. I explained about the ledge. I explained about the GPS coordinates telling me I was standing on the ledge but no real ledge in sight. I even explained about the sign stating I had reached the ledge. I wanted to tell him I suspected Aliens of wiping my brain every single time I went out there. I have to draw the line somewhere. I want to drag him into the city and see what happens when I put him in a room full of contra dancers; you know, a mix of experienced and can't find my feet dancers and probably better music.
So that was my adventure at the farm which is no longer the sort of farm you'd think of when you hear the word farm. The nice thing about the farm is it's the next two towns over making it a twenty or twenty-five backroad minute ride. It's traffic free, it's bridge free, it's worry free. It's astonishing. I almost want to make it work for that. Oh. Yeah, and he drinks red wine. There's a lot to be said about an unpretentious guy who drinks red wine. Those two things don't generally go hand in hand.
**Jules has pointed out in the comment section of the labyrinth post that I've failed to bring the VBF saga to a close. You can read the string or you can just accept Cielo's very brief and accurate response. "Jules, the VBF was fired." (at least I think that was it)