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Wandering the Blue Wilderness: Escapades into the Unfamiliar

September 18, 2012

A few years back, I went with my dad and three brothers to New Hampshire to do some deep-sea fishing. It was starting to become a tradition for us guys — a sort of bonding by shared suffering. Not that being on a boat ten miles from any piece of land , or grasping onto a heavy metal rod in the teeth of an April wind for six hours, is not a fun time. That was the whole point. When you go through something like that you know you’re alive. At least, that’s how Dad put it. I think, personally, that the elements of freezing weather and the heaving sea and the fish dancing on the end of the lines all combined to make deep-sea fishing the ideal contest with Nature. Also, we had sandwiches. Tons of them.

Our disappointment was crushing, therefore, when we rolled into the New Hampshire town and discovered that the stormy sky was no mere threat; the fishing boats had cancelled their runs for the day. All along the shore the angry waves tore into the sand. No one in the van said anything for a few minutes, because there was nothing to say — we felt like outcasts tossed up on the beach, lost, armed only with fishing poles and a cooler crammed with bologna sandwiches.

Then Dad turned to my brothers and me.

“Well,” he said, “I don’t know what we’re going to do, but we better start doing it.”

And he parked the car and the five of us headed for the beach. The wind roared over the deep, whipping salt and spray into our faces. Waves snarled. Wet sand sunk under our footsteps. We walked side-by side on the shoreline like the only survivors of a shipwreck discovering a new country. Despite the refusal of the fishing companies to risk life and limb for our annual tradition, we started to feel some consolation in the fact that our expedition was not cancelled, only re-routed. When God closes a door, He opens a window, I thought. Only unimaginative people can miss adventure. By golly, we would find one, somewhere.

And we did. I won’t catalogue for you how many cool pieces of driftwood we found on the beach, or how many small New England fishing towns we investigated, or the number of lobsters we bought at some local lobstery to carry triumphantly home as trophies of the day’s exploits. These things are important, but not the main point. What I am trying to illustrate instead is the sad fact that things don’t always turn out as we plan them . . . and the happy fact that perhaps our missed adventures are only adventures re-routed. Beyond the cancellations, the storm clouds, the frightened ship captains, there stretch whole beaches full of driftwood and lobsters, waiting to be seized by those who dare.

It’s something I like to call the Blue Wilderness. Our own plans sometimes are too tame, too normal, and they keep us tied down in routine or stagnation. But when the unfamiliar opens up like a blue sky leading to unexpected places, unplanned detours, uncalled-for acts of God, we should have the daring to travel these wild roads. The Blue Wilderness beckons from all sides. When will we take up the challenge?

St. Francis traveled the Blue Wilderness, often. At the ruined little church of San Damiano, kneeling at the altar, he heard the voice of Jesus — “Rebuild my Church.” Who would dare step onto that thorn-strewn path? Francis did. Not that he knew what the heck he was doing, but Christ had called, and the road had beckoned, and the Little Poor Man ran headlong down it. That was his secret: in all the hours of tedium, piling stone on stone in the dilapidated chapels in the Assisi valley, this medieval Italian caught the whiff of what drives on all of us humans of all times. He had felt the hint that there was, after all, something more.

Where do you feel the Blue Wilderness opening for you? Will you dare?

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From → Musings

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