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Pastor's Blog

The Trail

November 5, 2020


Last Saturday, I tried the foot path heading north into the heart of the Cedar Swamp. Two pick-ups belonging, I assumed, to hunters, were already parked at the trailhead.  As the trail gradually vanished without any trace of them ahead of me, I marveled again at people who just walk into the woods following no trail whatsoever. 

The trail near Jerusalem Lutheran Church heading south into the Cedar Swamp was itself a swamp again.  Standing water.  In the month since I've taken that trail there has been significant rainfall, but it was as if an entire winter's snow had just melted.  As I returned to my car I met a fellow exactly ten years older than me who was just starting his walk.  Who had the proper foot gear for a swamp.  Who said, “Yes, that place has been a swamp for 50 years.”  Who said, “I love that place,” and who said he had hunted there for all those years and who then recounted several stories about the deer he had gunned down there.  Now, only his son-in-law hunts with him.  His children and their families, he told me, had all boarded a plane for Florida that very day.  He couldn't believe they had done such a thing.  “I'm not going to see them for a while,” he said.  “I could kick them,” he said.  “It's not about freedom,” he said, referring to a conversation with them about wearing face coverings.  “It's about the virus.  It’s about giving it to other people.  Like me.”

Our conversation wandered back to hunting: how years ago more men hunted and how that got the deer moving around.  He explained how he had hunkered down in the Cedar Swamp, and how sometimes he walked a couple miles south down to the ridge and waited. 

“The ridge?”  I asked.  “Beyond the end of the trail?” “Yes,” he said, “that's where I'd go.”

Disappointed that my feet were not properly prepared to search again for the heart of the Cedar Swamp, I headed for the end of Town Line Road, finding hunters there as well, one having just arrived, methodically checking his weapon, a crossbow, and a rack of enough arrows to have slain every deer I'd seen at Navarino in three years.  His beautiful, new, blood-red truck and shiny steel trailer were backed up to within an inch of the Navarino parking lot sign.  As if his last trailer had been unhooked and stolen. 

I headed south so I could explore the West Branch of the Shioc River again, which I noted ran swiftly and clear over a sandy bottom.  And which, I also noted, is frequented by a beaver.  Though I couldn’t see the beaver’s home, I did find his sapling store.  A dozen, sharp, sapling stumps.  But only a few saplings in sight. 

Upon returning from the West Branch, I took a trail I knew to be one of those dead ends made by loggers.  I could see the dead end; I remembered that a foot trail extended beyond the dead end.  Standing at the beginning of that foot trail, I noticed a ridge to the east running north and south, maybe the same ridge just above the trail I had used to get to the West Branch.  I had time, so I followed the foot trail to a small, swift creek, a tributary, I imagine, of the West Branch, which I had to cross balancing on a slippery, mossy log, clinging to the branches of nearby trees.  The foot trail continued across the field right up to the ridge, then up the ridge to the trail I imagined was there. 

A trail was there.

It was clearly a logging road, but a very old and narrow one, unfrequented, completely covered with uncrushed, undisturbed, freshly fallen leaves.  I marked the intersection of the old road with the foot trail, noting that the road abruptly ended a few yards to the south.  So, I headed north where I imagined the old logging road would end at a newer road, or even at a real road, but which ended again as a foot path of crushed grasses that ran through a field with a few pines and a grand old oak and a view of the clearing for the ATC power lines.  The foot path of crushed grasses also ended, near the power lines. How, I asked myself, does an ancient logging road have no beginning and no end? 

First, I thought of that old road as a segment, a definition I remembered from high school geometry: the portion of a line between two points.  Then I also remembered how the definition of a line felt imbued with theological significance: a set of points extending in both directions forever.  That a relatively unchurched kid would find a simple mathematical definition fraught with theological energy seems unusual.

But that’s how it was.

Though the old logging road I discovered was properly a segment, it also, paradoxically, occurred to me that it had no beginning or end, as in having no destination or discernible point of origin.  It was a segment that was not on a line or that was on a line whose points are beyond our ability to discern.  I thought it was strange for a trail to exist in this way, because, by definition, trails do have trailheads, a place of origin, and destinations.  Even if those destinations are dead ends. 

So, to me, this was a strange trail.  Why was it there?  Who made it?  Who has walked on it?  We’ll never know.   It’s an inscrutable segment of an invisible line.  

Maybe that trail is like the Bible: a trail trod for a time on the line that is the human story.  Some would argue that we know about God only from the stories between the two points on that line that are the Bible: between the Old Adam and the New Adam, between the Alpha and the Omega, which is also a metaphor for language itself.  We know about God only through words, only through stories told along the segment of the trail of human existence that is the Bible.  

Beyond the Alpha and Omega are lots of stories like the stories of the hunts told by the man I encountered who hid in the heart of the Cedar Swamp, awaiting deer driven his way, awaiting deer he deemed worthy of killing and dragging out of the Swamp to his truck, to his shed or his garage to hang until butchered, each portion of the victim’s body destined to be a particular cut of meat:  meat for stew or steak or burgers or sausages spiced and smoked.  Consumed.  Digested.  Flushed away.

These stories will be told only by his children and maybe his grandchildren, but not likely by anyone else.  Maybe his closest friends knew his stories, the people about whom the man told me in parting, the people who had lived in the small home just north of the trailhead, who were always, he said, in a friendly competition with him for the blackberries in the field.  “Oh, I loved that couple,” he said. “But they’re gone now.”

That competition is over; its story perhaps never to be shared again.  Except here in this "blog," which will likely disappear itself.

All the more amazing Scripture is, then, that it's a tale retold still.  Even though it’s a small segment of the human story, many of its points, like stars in the dark, reveal the Ever-living God.

Pastor Larry

Posted by Larry Lange