The Path…Taken

The Path…Taken

I’ve found three baby snapping turtles in the yard in the last week, in different places at separate times. Each was moving along at a steady pace (for a baby turtle) with obvious intent. Reading up on the life of a snapping turtle, I found that their eggs hatch 80—90 days after being laid in late May and June, typically August through October, explaining why these newly hatched babies are here so late in the year. I also learned that they have an instinct to head for water immediately upon hatching. Up to 90% don’t even reach the age to hatch as the eggs are sniffed out and eaten by raccoons, skunks, and other predators. And once they do hatch, the journey to water is a solitary and perilous one that many don’t survive. As I witnessed, they are easy prey given their snail’s pace across the open ground.

We have lots of water around my property with a river deep back in the woods of my neighbors and a decent-sized pond next door over the stone wall. But given the drought, water is in scarce supply. My frog pond is still dry, despite my going back and digging down another 24” and not hitting ground water. It is hard to tell due to vegetation and trees, but the neighbor’s pond appears to either be bone dry, or perhaps a couple of small isolated pockets of water in deep holes. I am hoping there is at least a little left because that is where all three were heading. Their instincts were right – there is usually water there is water there – but their timing may have been poor as there may not be any water this year: 2020 apparently even sucks for turtles!

But isn’t that just the way of life? Right place at the wrong time? We always hear folks talk about the path not taken, about doing it over again – differently or not, and similar ponderings on their personal journey through life: “what would you do different?”. And while I do not ponder these questions too often as they are moot in that there is no chance to go back and try again, the few times I have I pretty much invariably end up with a resolute “no”. My life has been full and interesting and….it has been mine. I don’t want to live Steve’s life or Gary’s life or whatever. I want to live my life!

Surely there are things I regret; things I’ve done, things I’ve allowed to happen, things I didn’t do. But they are all threads in the fabric of my life’s tapestry and to cut and remove those “bad threads” would ultimately cause my whole tapestry to unravel and fall apart: my life would no longer be what it was. And while I like to think, to hope, that if given the chance to repeat those moment and this time, do it “right”, it gives pause for thought as to how the rest of my life would be altered.

When we err, stumble, fall, mess up in life we are doing the best we can at the moment and while our best wasn’t good enough for that moment in time, it was all we had to offer. Consider being in middle school or high school and witnessing a kid who was different – geeky, clumsy, had acne, stuttered, or was just socially awkward – getting picked on, teased, or bullied. I think (hope) we all want to think we’d intervene and stand up for the kid, defend him or her. But at that age? Many of us would either have just looked the other way and kept walking, or worse – joined in. We failed to live up to our own expectations.

A failure such as that is likely something that, upon reflection, many folks would want to go back and do differently. But as I mentioned earlier, the truth is that we did the best we were capable of in that moment, at that time. And while our inaction haunted us, and perhaps still does, the reality is that we could not have done it any differently, as easy as it seems it would have been to do so looking back on it.

But…it is not all bad. That failure to live up to our own expectations left a mark within us that remains with us throughout the rest of our lives, whether we realize it or not. That moment of failure to do the right thing changes us forever; once we grow and gain the ability that will enable us to do the right thing, we will – time and time again. Our failure ultimately deepens and enriches us as caring and empathetic human beings. And to help you feel a little better about your personal moment, the same holds true for the poor kid who was teased: they grew stronger and tougher as a result and that moment deepened and enriched for a lifetime them as well.

What I find most ironic about my life is how such a loner as I – a tried and true introvert, a solitary person, a true lone wolf – ended up knowing and enjoying so many people. Because I do love people and I find myself very forgiving of their flaws and inadequacies (except when they are driving on the same road as me!). I have always loved being alone: when I was 10 or 11 my mom put together a birthday party with a bunch of kids over to the house. I have no recollection who they were, but I assume a mix of neighborhood kids and school kids. I don’t recall, but apparently I got up and left in the middle of the party and headed off the woods or the beach or somewhere….last party mom every threw for me! It is a small part of why I love hiking – the silence and solitude are indescribably wonderful. I’ve always loved the wee hours of the morning for much the same reason: nothing better than watching a great horror film at 1:00 in the morning!!

But as my life progressed, I found myself enjoying people more and more. While it used to be tolerating them, I began to enjoy them – in small doses anyway. I enjoyed gathering all my folks at work together in a team meeting to talk to them and either inform them of what was going on or try to motivate or inspire them. My group was around 300 at one point near the end and while I could never get all of them in one place at one, I did them in groups and still got to see and talk to them all over the course of a couple of days. And I enjoyed it – I enjoyed them. This is not to say that I didn’t then treasure the drive home alone in the car though!

But hiking….alone (unless my wife comes along which is always a great pleasure for me) is simply awesome. I enjoy being alone and there is no better place to be alone than deep in the woods. Yet I find I get excited when I bump into someone on the trail; I get to say “hi” and to wish them a wonderful day. And if I am lucky, perhaps share some info on the trail we are both hiking, if they should ask me. Odd, isn’t it? This, again, goes back to that balance of all things in life I write of so often; the duality of life. And that alone is enough to reinforce why not taking one path does not preclude you from experiencing what lies on the other. Life finds a way…

I can recall other wonderful times alone – as a teen in the winter I would skate every minute of every hour I could. But my favorite was getting out on the pond alone at night and skating the back sections in the total darkness. Of course riding my motorcycle as well, but that is exhilarating just because it is a motorcycle, so the alone part always came in second place there! There were some times on the ski slope as well, especially in poor weather conditions leaving the slopes almost empty; no sound but the skis alternating between chattering and cutting through the ice and snow – magical!!

But to get back to going back, while I would not make any major changes – I would still drop out of college, I would still hitch from Indiana to Rhode Island, I would still go to work building submarines – there are some minor changes I think I would like. I would take better care of my body while working inside the bowels and bellies of those behemoth boats. I have lost hearing and vision as a result of working all those years there and both losses are diminishing to me as a man.

Another thing I would change is my awareness. Through a huge portion of my life, I always felt less than others, not because I was less skilled or less intelligent but because somehow I was usually the youngest of the group. And as such I always sort of felt that I “wasn’t quite there yet” when compared to the older folks. At 16 and 17 years old, I felt less than the 19 or 20-year-old folks. At 25 it was the 30-year-olds and even at 40, it was the 50-year-old people. That somehow those few extra years placed them into a superior position to me. Intellectually I knew that was wrong, but emotionally I took a virtual step back in their presence. And that, therefore, meant I had to work even harder to outachieve them because I had mentally placed myself in a inferior position right from the start. I would love to go back knowing the strength and power I had all along. But then again, I am guessing most of us would! Too many of us have been forced into solitary conditions by this pandemic. Human contact and interaction are crucial to our spiritual well-being and so many have been denied that. And I think that, more than missing a dinner and drink or a movie is why people are beginning to flood back into pre-pandemic behaviors and why case numbers are rising again. I think that people have had enough with solitude and loss of human contact. Which might help explain why I get excited when I am in the woods enjoying my solitude but bump into another hiker that I can say “great day isn’t it?” to. I wish you all the safe opportunity to reconnect to others dear reader, even if it is just a nod and a hello on a trail. Stay well!!

Leave a Reply