A Long Time After the Echoes End

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Wayne Michael DeHart  (Rev. April, 2021)

Aloft and alone on the imposing rock ledge, enraptured by the panorama of Fall color that spread from here to there along my line of sight, I immersed myself in the seamless serenity of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. I had been reflecting on recent tumultuous times that had blurred the boundary between the end of youth and the beginning of real life. The loss of certainty and direction was paired with the discovery of a complex inner self that twisted my gut. The former was predictable, the latter was not. 

My immediate future, however, was not uncertain. In a couple of days, I would be on my way to Oakland Army Base. From there, I would board a bus bound for Travis Air Force Base with a group of young strangers, exchange the bus seat for a plane seat, and be flown to an unsettling setting that contrasted strikingly with that tranquil perch just above the tree line there in the southernmost Whites.

I pulled a Sky Bar from my knapsack, laid back, closed my eyes, and strained to hear the echoes of the voices I  heard on the car radio while driving north from Laconia:

“When you’re weary, feeling small, when tears are in your eyes … sail on, silver girl, sail on high, your time has come to shine, all your dreams are on their way … like a bridge over troubled water, I will ease your mind.”

And then:

“Caught in my fears, blinking back the tears … ’cause I’ve done everything I know to try and make you mine, and I think I’m gonna love you for a long, long time.”

The plaintive phrasing and wistful words offered by Art Garfunkel and Linda Ronstadt were calming, comforting. My mind was eased, my senses pleased by the melodic tones  of  music that wasn’t there.

When it was time to leave the quiet solitude of that always-welcoming and optimal outcropping, I let gravity conserve my energy while descending from what I once described as my “own stone throne”,  where I had often taken refuge when my waters were troubled and my road was rough. Down the familiar trail I coasted to the furrowed logging road, soft-stepping past the birches immortalized by Frost, splashing childlike through that last crystal-clear stream out to the clearing and into the car.  Heading home,  I could still hear the echoes, and took solace in knowing they would always be there.

A very long year later, I was back in “the world” and out of the Army.  I had by now undeniably crossed the bridge into real life and  though I was still feeling very much weary, I actually and ironically needed to feel small. But not on the down note vocalized by Garfunkel. Small in a good way. In the way a child beholds the night sky.  In the way a groom embraces the shadows when all eyes turn to the bride. In the way egos are humbled amid heroes at Arlington.

I knew one stop remained before I would truly feel I was home again.

Despite bitter late Autumn cold, I sought the sanctuary, the security, the psychological safety of my most favored lofty ledge. Transformed by events, I sailed on high to that cherished nesting spot, took several deep breaths of clean mountain air, and inhaled the lingering scent emanating from the tops of sleeping evergreens.  Interspersed with them, the stark beauty of defoliated deciduous trees posing silently and stoically below created an image of carpeted ridgelines bowing to the bevy of surrounding peaks silently awaiting the season’s first snowfall.

I parked my butt on the slab of rock that hosted me and listened for the voices, the words, the echoes that surely had been awaiting my return to the mountain.  Listened and waited. Waited and listened. On that November day I realized that, like the faded fallen leaves below, echoes aren’t forever. 

The granite beneath me grew colder. My passion for my place of refuge did not.   

Just before starting my descent, I turned and projected my own voice into the void, proclaiming  “You, White Mountains, are my inspiration, my heritage,  my freedom, and my friend, and I think I’m gonna love you . . .  for a long, long time.”
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Be it requited or, as Linda lamented,  be it not.) 

The sound surged back at me in rolling waves, reverberating off invisible walls, cascading gently down toward the valley floor. I felt a relentless rush as I recklessly chased the pulsating words down the trail. I wanted to experience them from the bottom as I had from the top. Just as the song lyrics had survived the trip from the car to the peak a year earlier, on this day these did so in reverse. Though they had faded somewhat with the time and distance of the descent, they were there to welcome me at the end. All I had to do was close my eyes and wait and listen and take it all in.  And because echoes always end, they have to be appreciated and savored in the moment and remembered for what they were. Then get on to the business of creating and casting new ones for another day, another year, another time.  But they will never come back around if we lose the will to wait for them and the willingness to listen for them.  If we don’t hear them, no one will. After they’re gone, they won’t be back, and the opportunity to make a memory, one we may want and need someday, will have been forever lost.

As I walked to the car, I felt profoundly excited, exuberant, euphoric.  I felt a renewed sense of certainty and now knew which direction I was destined to travel.  I had owned the day. It was Sky Bar time in the Whites.

The spirited bounce in my step served as a reminder that we often dance best to the music that isn’t there. Travolta had nothing on me when I crushed a move emerging from that stream near the end . (Swayze, maybe, but only on his best day.) I read somewhere that many years later, in a local grocery store,  two 50-ish ladies sighed longingly as they watched a sprightly old codger make that very same move while rounding the corner of a crowded aisle.

I suspect he too once successfully crossed a badass bridge into the real world. Probably craves dark chocolate and owns some old Ronstadt albums as well. Happy trails to you, old-timer,  may your load be light and your eyes stay bright.  Hope you stick around . . .  for a long, long time.

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