Recently, I explored the Richard T. Anderson Conservation Area which maintains a lovely interpretive trail providing a narrative of the Minnesota River Valley’s fertile history. As I ran from river bottom to ridge crest, I paused at intervals to read placards mounted atop worn wood posts. These story boards give up the surrounding hills’ hidden secrets: climates and currents and ancestors first as clans and then growing communities with their tools, crops and cultures. Eventually, the boards tell of the modern “civilization” that dominated these peoples much like the glaciers that crept through this place changing tide and elevation and creed and practice, what once was forever changed by what temporarily passes for now.
As I ran in the cool wood, I began to imagine the changing landscape as the river’s edge recedes, the ridge line rises, animals migrate and, so, the people that would hunt them. I could see their efforts to refine their tools and trades alongside the evolution of their nomadic villages; in the face of need, shared resources would create greater strength. I saw in the damp forest crackling fires and children splashing, women drawing water and chatting. I smelled the meal and felt their drawing close to one another for comfort.
In the face of these ebbing currents, riverbanks and generations, it is easy to see that we don’t have the capacity to comprehend – couldn’t possibly give an explanation that can hold – the vast weight of the human story, the comings and goings of this cosmos. Perhaps the mystery is too great for a single answer, our world a complex and fluid challenge, our multiplying identities dizzyingly distinct. Or, perhaps the answer is simply too great for our singular minds always striving to be right.
Either way, knowing seems as possible as holding the fog that spreads along the dirt I tread. In this still, preserved place it is easy to surrender to the wonder of it, to simply lean into the whispers of our ancestors as they give scale to the enormity of our humankind. Freely, discomfort and distrust can be displaced for a greater awareness of our common story, all of us joining to fight evil who is not one different but one intent to destroy.
I was given a glimpse of this several years ago as I walked ancient crowded stones in Old Jerusalem, hearing the bar mitzvah drums beating against the Muslim calls to prayer and a very startling whisper, “I will redeem all of this.”
As a brilliant author* so wisely observed,
How wild it is to let it be.
*”Wild”, written by Cheryl Strayed
Re·deem (verb): to release from blame or debt by payment of ransom