Remembering to Move On

Touching down in Baltimore, following a direct flight to a state where I’d lived for almost 40 years, an unemotional calm settled over a sunny morning.  Mine was the first bag to hit the belt at a BWI baggage claim carousel.  Picking it up with an impromptu plan to wait until my son could meet me, since an emergency vet run was delaying him , I headed outside to board an airport shuttle bus that would take me to a nearby MARC/Amtrak station, adjacent to part of the B&A Trail.

The Baltimore/Annapolis Trail is a paved walking/cycling pathway between the two cities, part of which loops the BWI aviation complex over a 9 mile course.  A close companion and I had trained countless hours in preparation for Appalachian Trail thru-hike attempts, along this very section.  Breathing in the crisp spring air, fond memories of those hikes and bike rides flowed into my consciousness, along with a dull sadness that the friend was not with me now, as I walked alone.  It had been the start of a wonderful dream, rich with promise of new beginnings, at the cost of personal choices whose consequences I was now trying to recompense.  Two sons, a daughter and now a one-year-old grandson had remained in Maryland, following my exit to chase a dream of my own as a middle-aged mom, weary of being a full-time home-maker.  I was back now at a place where the paths of my young adult children could  intersect with mine, briefly, before each headed in their own direction again, in pursuit of their own dreams.  Walking deliberately out of a hurtful past and into what I hoped would be a path of reconciliation and new understanding, I was alone for the soft re-entry.  The bus paused at the entrance to the parking lot for the train depot, and as another passenger exited ahead of me, I followed out the doors of the bus heading straight for the trail I knew was still there—a place I needed to retrace and come to terms with alone.

Instead of a backpack, this time I pulled a small travel bag on wheels that bumped down the curb and rolled unevenly over the grass along the roadside, focused on merging with the paved walkway a few hundred yards ahead.  Approaching the Stoney Run Road overpass where the trail takes a long detour over airport traffic, a brief pause at a park bench to readjust a shoulder bag’s weight, required me to answer an incoming call from my son, who was now on his way after a successful vet run.  “One crisis averted, and one mother’s thoughts saved by bringing them back to the present, before memories and emotions could pull her backwards”, I thought.  I was reminded of being here for my young adult children, one of whom had just returned from deployment, as another prepared to relocate across the country, and a grandson who was now walking.  I was here to intersect with their lives briefly, caring about what they cared about, enjoying the time we would spend in each other’s company, and considering the progress they were making individually as they’d fought to secure and preserve their own futures apart from me.  It wasn’t long before my son pulled off onto the shoulder of the road, next to the trail, to pick me up. ( I confess, I couldn’t help but remember the many times compassionate motorists had picked up weary hikers along other trails, taking them to places of refreshment.)

Black ankles and a worn pair of boots with laces undone is an image easily associated with long-distance hiking and sojourners bent on pilgrimage.  For me it was no coincidence two of my sons would be playing together at a venue northwest of Baltimore in the rolling hills of  Mt. Airy called “Black Ankle Vineyard”.  It had been several years since they’d played in public together, and this event was not an option for me to miss.  Traffic around and out of the city to the corridor that took us into lush, tree-lined, rolling pastures, and shaded back-roads where wealthier residents could afford to live, reminded me why I had “sold out” and moved away from the state 8 years ago.  The scenic beauty was surviving here, but many “For Sale” signs along the route suggested property taxes and an aging population was presently making way for the sprawl of those willing to commute long distances from higher paying jobs out of Washington, DC— a sacrifice a few are still willing to make in an attempt to preserve a sense of sanity and retreat from the mayhem of congestion and government regulatory bodies.

Approaching the vineyard, a late afternoon sun highlighted forty acres of grape vines, neatly trellised on hillsides encircling an eco-friendly “cottage” used for hosting special events and wine-tastings. Beautifully manicured perennials framed the landscape, and a “green roof” with low profile plants carpeted the cottage roof.  Friendly, open-mouthed gargoyles poised along the gutters, waited for the next rain to direct the overflow into large flower-pots below the drip edge.  Visitors had already started spreading their blankets and picnic-coolers around the freshly mown lawn or atop wrought-iron tables and chairs arranged on a gravel veranda.  A pleasant 70 degree temperature lingered in the glow of a slowly setting sun, while children played on boulders arranged at the perimeter of the picnic grounds.  Further out in the field, a boisterous group of adolescents swung at whiffle-balls, and a family of four enjoyed a corn-hole game set up along a fence-line.  Two of my sons had inconspicuously set up their sound system and were already playing cover songs and original compositions at the high end of an asymmetrical canopy, secured tautly like a flag-ship ready to catch a breeze and set sail.

Wandering about the grounds, taking in the soft conversation of friends and families at their leisure, a mellow ambiance drifted out over the stone walkways and emerald green lawns.  I stopped briefly at one of several wine-tasting tables, before settling down on a curved step next to a stone.  Savoring a glass of my favorite Black Ankle  Vineyard red blend, “Passeggiata”, a casual conversation with a couple at a table nearby earned me  samples of their home-made Maryland crab balls.  Life was suddenly good and rich and right.  No doubt, this was a place of dreams fulfilled by others, overflowing into an incomparable hospitality that carried away  earthly concerns. It felt like a comforting shawl wrapped around bare shoulders on a cool day, when good company and  shared experiences open the way for rest and renewal.

Sunset and guests packing to go home neatly tied a ribbon for remembrance around the afternoon.  On the long drive back to a suburb of Baltimore, I considered the stark contrast between the soothing countryside we were leaving, and the encroaching areas of congested housing with their perpetual intrusions of noise and inescapable stressors of constant vigilance that accompany living in close quarters.   I remembered and understood again the “call” of hills and mountains and wilderness areas to which I find myself increasingly drawn.  I wondered how we can live at peace with ourselves and our neighbors, apart from such reprieves.

After an all too brief visit with my one year old grandson, conversations with a son home from deployment who is reconnecting with his culinary and musical gifts,  the refreshing company of another son’s forward thinking plans and youthful enthusiasm, and an impromptu dinner with a brother-in-law and his partner, my heart ached a little less and a little more.  I sensed a new “wind” on its way to carry us all beyond the present where we were being given an opportunity to reconnect and embrace one another, as family members should. The mystery of how we need desperately to remember people, events, and places from our past, in order to fully enter dreams propelling us into the future, made a re-appearance in the splendor of a blessed Memorial Day weekend.  Raw truth, bare honesty, the silence of natural beauty, and the all-encompassing presence of a Divine Spirit, were each portals that brought us to points of remembrance, while infusing a desire to step confidently into whatever adventures might lie ahead.

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