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Miles to Go Before We Sleep

This far, no farther, and not one step back.

(Photo: William Rivers Pitt)

I took my daughter for a long walk under the low November sun, and it turned into an adventure. We are hedged by deep forest to all points on the compass here in the great granite north, home to deer runs that spider-web the fallen pine needles, ghostly moose like towering mystics in the far field, a family of porcupines, one cat-eating coyote and the occasional ominous bear. Serious stuff. Before our walk, my daughter was content to contend with the lawn that greens the verge of the dark and deep, but Daddy was with her this day, and that meant pressing the edge.

Over the ancient stone wall we went, into the thicket of pines where she learned to snap off the dead branches lest they claw at her eyes, then deeper, over the moss and the deadfalls laid down by a windstorm and further, into the places where the sun only hints at a kiss, her plowing forward and me always aware of the surround, where true north is, the way back to the house.

She found her favorite place in that secret space: Bifurcated trees. Trees with two, three, four, five full trunks growing up and out of one base like a splayed hand, like a crown. She would find one and crawl into the base, the hollow where all the fingers reached up and out toward the sky. She stood there timeless, three feet of eternity conducting the energy passing through her, speechless, rigid in bliss. She was in the palm of a living thing, and if she didn’t know it, the tree did. I felt it, too. I watched a tree sing to my daughter as she stood in its elder grasp, and she heard it full well.

I am thankful for that.

Thankfulness is a hard dollar to make these days. He Who Shall Not Be Named Here Today hasn’t yet taken the oath of office, and already the deep stain of his impending presidency marks us all. It is difficult to locate gratitude in this vortex of shame, confusion, hate and greed, but this is an orderly transition of power, right? He won, everyone else lost, and never mind the shenanigans from overseas and right down the block. We are in the pipe now, five by five, charging into a future that reeks of the past. Native Americans are being attacked with “non-lethal” concussion grenades and rubber bullets for protecting their water rights out in North Dakota, all in the lead-up to Thanksgiving — a holiday which, after all, is about celebrating the United States’ “heritage.”

A new creature now walks the land, most clearly visible on televisions tuned to “news” networks. No zoologist has labeled it yet, so I just call it the “Yeahbut.” Every time a fascist, a racist or an all-out Nazi is tapped for a Cabinet position in the looming administration, all the apple-polishers on the screen say, “Yeah, but how bad can they really be?” or “Yeah, but that was a long time ago” or “Yeah, but those people don’t vote anyway,” and we are all a little worse for the wear in the stench of the Yeahbut’s passage. Forgiveness is divine, it is said, but watching the TV people exonerate themselves for the ruin they gleefully foisted upon us in the name of ratings and advertising dollars makes me glad, for their sake, that I am a peaceful man.

I am so tired. I have spent half my life trying to stop or slow down that which now comes onrushing like a wave so tall that it blots out the sun. Yet I remember my daughter standing in that tree, in her simple glory, and all of it shimmers into shards of purpose, and I am thankful to know I have a few good fights left in me. I am thankful for my good right arm and what I will do within its reach.

I will not be still. I will not be silent. I will volunteer at a food bank to help those who will feel the grind of these coming years most keenly. I will volunteer to be an escort at a women’s clinic because my daughter has rights. I will make it known that my home is a sanctuary for anyone who fears being unjustly thrown out of the country. If they try to run Kobach’s registry of Muslims, I will be first in line to sign my name. I will do that, and more.

Through it all, some of me will ever be in the forest with my daughter. I am in a horde of leaves amid the hushed susurrations of wind through evergreens with a little girl who knows nothing of sorrow yet as she stands in a throne of wise bark. I feel the low jolt passing from trunk to her hand to trunk, and I know why I am here. When next we pass over the ancient stone wall into that sacred shrouded space, I will whisper to her the lines from her favorite bedtime poem: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.”

And I will mean it.

I am thankful for this small patch upon which I make my stand. This far, no farther, and not one step back.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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