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Uncharted territory (02/15/2009)
By Janet Lewis Burns
Tree branches now looking gray and scrawny had thrived this past fall, with leaves of deepest gold and bronze, as seasonal juices flowed through sinewy veins. Their winter vessels are frozen in place, our stripped-down red oaks rendered dormant in tenebrous shadows, filling our living room window with drab innuendoes of February.

The poet Robert Frost once wrote, “Ends and beginnings – there are no such things. There are only middles.” Regrets may be the heaviest excess baggage a person of considerable age lugs around throughout the years, like lessons learned that we think we didn’t need. As bygone youth and elderly frailty come face to face in today’s reflections – times not asked for, moments best forgotten, and expectations waving from a distance too far away to decipher – the most important thing becomes that main event “TOMORROW.”

Where has everyone gone? I warmly recall casually entertaining often and laughing a lot. We rocked! I would fuss over food and drink, getting the house all decked out for any occasion, tidying to the last minute. Unexpected guests were always a pleasure! Ours was the home where the friends of our teenagers were welcomed any time. Besides a few extra plates at mealtimes and daily batches of cookies and bars devoured, I cheerfully laundered sports uniforms of anyone who wound up on one of our couches overnight, loving it all!

I’ve come to realize, as senior citizen status hits home, that we lose people, lifestyles are greatly altered, and our interests and habits are often determined by our health. Home can become a convenient escape, an assumed haven of solitude, prompting social isolation.

You are your own best nurturer. Home can also be a springboard for a person’s interaction and participation in the greater world and community, regardless of age and health issues. Adventure demands no passport! If you have to, go as far as you can muster with one foot clinging to your doorstep. We’re never too old to blaze new trails! Throw away the road map! Stop at the first place you want to explore, even if it’s just across town.

I can’t resist, elegiac as I am, writing from the perspective of someone else, like a farmer living a long time alone and still milking cows. Such a scenario moves and inspires me during snow-laden drives through a winter countryside, where I’m privy to black on white tapestries up and down steep hills, narrow, tire-stamped roads, and imprints of woodland dwellers. Trees like pencil sketches on dull parchment, loom and plunge down steep ravines.

Formidable winter winds whipped and pounded a frigid and vapid fortress, isolating his drafty, steeply mortgaged, monster house and sagging farm buildings. Held captive to a trail of mishmash boot tracks, leading back and forth from one confinement to another, he notes trivial things - like the cat always follows its exact paw prints back the way she came.

Uneaten carrion, their stench overbearing, are more prevalent in late fall when predators are still finding their food elsewhere.

The uneventful glow of city lights at twilight mocks an ambiguous future and severs resting fields of virgin snow from skies swelling with the promise of a relentless storm, which always weighs heavily on a man alone. An extra quilt and a bottle of cheap whiskey that he no longer bothers to hide, pin his passing existence to starless darkness.

For a writer, there are no void moments or invalid encounters. Writers and poets are always trolling for the explicit word, that magical line, the heart-wrenching metaphor. Be assured, as a poet or writer of essays converses with you, his or her mind is, at the same time, engaged in a private, inaudible, fragmentary conversation apart…uncharted territory.

“Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.” Henry David Thoreau is one of my favorite inspirational writers.

We all drink from our own wells. Reading the words of others can prompt a ravenous thirst.

Janet Burns is a lifelong resident of Lewiston. She can be reached at patandjanburns@embarqmail.com.



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