It is the season of migration in rural Iowa, and I have become more observant of the cycles of motion in the world around me. It is surprising what I can see from my second-story window. Small flocks of mallards flap their way toward Otter Creek Marsh, where I know they will be joined by redwings, coots, and little blue herons with their ivory-feathered young, stabbing at sleepy frogs in the shallows.
From my window, if I bend my neck and peer deep into the sky, I can sometimes glimpse the soaring sliver of a bald eagle. Looking down at our neighbor's young maple, I can see juncos and finches riding the bag of suet like a rodeo bull. Tomcats, an orange tiger and a gray, have been moving through the neighborhood as well, upsetting our female cat, Dorothy, a wary Juliette. Robins are everywhere, and the wasps have returned to dust off their paper nest near the eaves. I am surprised at how much I have missed them.
Human migration and movement are visible from my window as well. Retirees are returning from their winter homes in Arizona and Florida to get reacquainted with growing grandchildren who are bursting through our neighborhood park and racing along our sidewalk on bicycles and skateboards.
Cars are once again parked on the street, waxed and ready to go, and small aircraft move through kind skies. Behind it all is the rumble and hoot of the Chicago & North West Railroad, and the hiss of cars on Highway 30, part of the historic Lincoln Highway, "Main Street to America," which I might follow west, across the Plains, into the Great Basin, through Donner Pass, and arrive in San Francisco. If I chose to.
But I don't. My wife, Stephanie, and I are not frequent or sophisticated travelers. Our annual summer trip is usually reserved for visiting her family's place in Idaho. On the way, we stay in cheap motels, look forward to eating junk food, and inevitably get stranded in hot, unlikely places like Rock Springs, Wyo. The season for such awkward journeys is about to begin.
Lately, however, I have found myself impatient for other kinds of travel. Looking around, I see people my age who are already merging into the fast lane of upward mobility, ticking off miles of credit, and ordering items from a more lucrative drive-through menu: a large house, a nice car, a good retirement plan.
In contrast, we pay rent and try, unsuccessfully, to keep our 1980 car from rusting out. Stephanie and I also want to move into parenthood, into the adventurous terrain of family where we chase our own children across neighborhood parks. Instead we chase our cat around the apartment. All of this makes me feel as if I'm being stranded in a season - a culture - of movement.
Yesterday evening, sifting through mail after work, I came across a magazine promotion that began: "I think I know something about you. You have above-average intelligence and a wide range of interests. You work hard - you're always on the go." I laughed, a little reluctantly. During dinner, I read the advertisement to Stephanie.
She looked at me over her microwaved burrito, smiled, and, knowing the peculiar timbre of my mood, suggested we go for a walk.
We stepped out into the mild, lavender evening and started north. Soon our paved street became a gravel road, and we found ourselves walking along pastures of slowly greening grass, a sluggish brook, and a thicket of budding mulberry trees. After the sunset, we sat on the edge of the road and watched the constellations rise. In March we had stood on that same road, in a freezing wind, and gazed in wonder at comet Hyakutake - the "dirty snowball" - as it migrated through space at over 100,000 m.p.h. Last night, however, the air was warm enough to let us sit and savor the slower migrations of the stellar season: the western fall of Orion, our favorite winter constellation, and the return of Hercules and Lyra in the east.
Suddenly, I was struck with all we had done, all we had seen and felt since we had last looked at these stars. During the last year, Steph and I had grieved together, rejoiced, completed a thousand nameless journeys of love and laughter and lament. How is it, I wondered, that we had found the faith to journey from this sky last year to this same sky tonight? And how is it that any of us have the courage to find faith in between the places of our lives?
I took Steph's hand and lay back in the grass. We heard, overhead, the honking of invisible geese on their way to the marsh. The red-tailed hawk and the comet were long gone. I did not envy their motion, nor the motion of the people around me. For the moment, I felt I was moving fast enough. So I just lay there gazing at the North Star, reminding myself of the light I always see, in every season.