Up on the Robert Frost Trail

On Saturday, after the morning zendo schedule and late breakfast with a student, I took the dogs onto the Robert Frost Trail, a footpath trail that continues for close to 50 miles through this part of the Commonwealth with an entrance half a mile from the house.

Twice I’ve run into folks asking about the Trail. “We came here to hike it but it’s too steep,” they told me.

“It’s just the first five or seven minutes,” I tell them, pointing to the opening into the woods. “It’s a climb on gravel with some big stone steps, but if you can make it up, you’re home free. It’s easy walking from there.”

I didn’t see them go back to try it out.

On Saturday we only walked it for a couple of hours, didn’t even get as far as Pigpen Ledges. And yes, as the years go by those first five minutes get more arduous. I had to reach for branches to help me up, sometimes bending all the way to the ground. Coming back down, I managed to stay upright, not sitting on my butt and sliding down as has happened before.

Between the two, it’s just the human, two dogs, the moss, boulders, tall spruce and pine, long grasses waving hi to the breeze, streams gurgling. We walk on this Trail a couple of times a season and when we get back, we’re tired.

Earlier that morning I read about the death of the astronaut William Anders, one of three from the Apollo 8 mission who left the earth’s orbit and flew around the moon. He’s famous for taking the iconic photo of our blue earth rising above the desert surface of the moon against the overwhelming blackness of an unknown universe.

I’ve heard so many people talk about that photo over the years and how it affected them. Some said is showed how lonely we are because there is nothing else out there. Others resonated with earth’s fragility, and still others with its beauty.

Dean James Morton, head of New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine, told me in a 1996 interview that it was that photo, hanging over his desk, that convinced him of the sacredness of the earth and the importance of protecting it. Under the Cathedral’s auspices, he started the first interfaith environmental organization called National Religious Partnership for the Environment, under the leadership of our old friend, Paul Gorman.

Anders the astronaut said: “To me it was strange that we had worked and had come all the way to the moon to study the moon, and what we really discovered was the Earth.”

Not all of us can make such a trip and appreciate the Earth from a distance, we have to develop that sensitivity while eating, walking, driving, working, sleeping right in it, while being part of it, not outside. Like walking on the Robert Frost Trail.

At 74, I felt small and young among the tall trees and the big gray boulders, as if this was their home and I was a guest. I felt silent expectations about being a good guest and I wondered what that meant. I carried no trash with me, no food items, just a blue belt around my waist with dog treats and a phone for which there was no signal.

My friend, Gabby Meyer, wrote this in his forthcoming book, On the Verge of the Verb: “We humans are the youngest siblings of Creation. As infantile terror-makers and juvenile delinquents, we are the ones who break stuff out of clumsiness and ignorance and get a thrill out of our own inventions without considering the consequences. We’re the ones who get carried away by success and glory and commit reckless acts of destruction. We are the last creatures to arrive to this world. Accordingly, we have much less experience than our elders: the animals, the trees, the mountains, the rivers.”

Walking in the woods, I feel surrounded by elders, those who not just came long before me but who continue to watch over that gorgeous blue-and-white globe in the sky even as they’re planted in it. Who shake their heads at human antics, at the silliness of their ambitions, at the arrogance of their Muskian reach.

Charge all the millions you want for tourist travel to space; the real story is between sheaves of grass, in the hooting of sentries in the night, the soft indentations on muddy ground that fill with water and then empty as we cross them, still newcomers learning our manners.

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