I’ve never done too well with goals -- or houseplants, cream sauces, and realizing stripes shouldn’t be worn with plaid flannels.
My father always said one should have some, though, goals set at the start of the year. He told us this, my sister and I, on the cold evenings of January the 1st -- year after year -- after pallets had been placed in the rockrimmed firepit, hot dogs roasted, and after my grandmother burnt her marshmallows for s’mores to perfection. After I’d whittled away green elm branches for roasting sticks, I was sure to be asked: what is your goal?
And I always had one…one at least…made up with best of intentions. Often it included feeble attempts at journaling or the more substantial of fattening a steer for slaughter. I was always pretty good at that.
But as the years went on, I stopped. Perhaps it just got too complicated, too overwhelming as life began involving saving relationships or ending them, jobs and grad school, eating or not. Perhaps the years piled up behind each other like the neck-rolls of a Shar Pei -- and in those wrinkles there was time…there are lives -- lives of my own choosing and living, or lack thereof. And what is that saying, anyway? Let sleeping dogs…lie?
Perhaps it was just as depressing as beginning to receive kitchen utensils for Christmas instead of books and Borders’s gift certificates.
The wrinkles though...they’re still there. (And the serving spoons and knifes keep coming). The characters, stories, and plays are fuzzy in between the folds -- like fresh-laundered jeans stored away -- but they’re all still alive, and not too awfully far away.
Yet all “perhaps” aside, I know I was frightened to fail. I know I am now, too. Putting down evidence, convicting myself. Putting down words. But they’re in my head anyway, I figure, so what the heck. What have I to lose.
I was recently asked: Have you found what you were looking for? If now – in a cabin, in a canyon, with a man and a dog and a book. Is this it?
Is this what I’ve always wanted?
And I did think about it for several seconds. And it’s easy to look back into those wrinkles and see how actions created reactions, which resulted in failure, strife, and moments of success and yes…happiness, too. But in the blackest of nights there was no moon and there were no shadows. Only tripping over things I should have seen coming.
But I didn’t. (And there were a few traps set). Like Jeremiah Johnson’s Caleb…move your hand back, boy.
Thankfully, I still have all of my fingers.
Because I wasn’t looking. I wasn’t setting goals. (Maybe that was the problem, now come to think of it).
I was just walking -- straight on ‘til morning -- upon the belief that one day the night would end -- like when you’re winter-camping and you’re stuck in a tent for 14 hours…reading by headlamp, listening for avalanches in the distance and realizing you forgot to put your CamelBak bladder in your sleeping bag and now your water supply is frozen. Or when you're waiting for pike to strike at dawn -- somewhat like that. Upon the belief that one day I would see something -- anything -- something that was perhaps in front of me all the while, something that would remind me of home. Walking upon the faintest belief in shadows, one foot after the other with a mind running wild.
But this year I do have a goal. Oh, I’m still afraid to fail, and of traps, and of riddles being asked of me in the dark. But I have a goal. A sight to look through the coming twelve months. The coming 365 nights and 4,380 hours of darkness.
And I think my dad would be proud; I’m ready if he asks.
I’m going to just keep walking, upon that same belief that someday, I’ll see something.