Such an honest thing

Another photo for my collection of pictures of people taking pictures:
Susan on the Mount Vernon Trail, November 2017

“What I like about experience is that it is such an honest thing. You may take any number of wrong turnings, but keep your eyes open and you will not be allowed to go very far before the warning signs appear. You may have deceived yourself, but experience is not trying to deceive you. The universe rings true wherever you fairly test it.”C. S. Lewis

Lewis ought to know, if anyone does. His life had more than the usual share of twists and turns. Losing his mother to death when he was a young child, he suffered a nightmarish experience of boarding schools that he later declared to be worse than the trenches of World War I, where he was gravely injured. His military service granted him an exemption from testing requirements that would likely have kept him out of Oxford due to his well-documented struggles to learn basic mathematics. He went on to achieve fame, fortune (almost all of which he gave away), and a lifetime of scholarship at Oxford and Cambridge.

Though he had been a nominal Christian during childhood, he spent years as an atheist before converting in earnest to Christianity, unintentionally establishing himself as one of the most influential apologists of his century. And he lived most of his life as a bachelor until being surprised, near the end of his life, with a brief but joy-filled marriage to a woman who was believed to be literally on her deathbed as the wedding ceremony was performed. Through it all, he had the honesty to keep his eyes wide open to the evidence around him when his own firmly held convictions were tested and found wanting.

I think Lewis is right that we often deceive ourselves. When the photo above was taken, Susan and I were walking the Mount Vernon Trail on a lovely November day. It was chilly, but not so much that we didn’t enjoy being out. However, I somehow got it into my head that it would be an easy walk from the Belle Haven Marina, the parking lot near my home where we left the car, to Fort Hunt Park. I based my impression not on experience, but from the rough estimate of comparing a straight-line scale of miles to the winding trail pictured on the map. Mostly, however, I think I just wanted to believe it would be an easy walk.

Even though we kept stopping to make photos, I started thinking that it was taking us far too long to get through the marshlands to the park, which was, ahem, the first place there would be a ladies’ room available. (I shouldn’t have been drinking so much tea.) We asked a few hikers coming from the other direction how far it was to the park, and I confess I was a bit dismayed that the first ones we asked didn’t seem to know.  Finally, Susan got out her cell phone–  why didn’t I think of that before?– and announced that we were still about 1.5 miles to the park. Yikes, not even half way there! And then there would be the “easy” walk all the way back to the car.  A quick change of plans took us back up the trail down which we had just come. Luckily it looked a bit different coming from the opposite direction.

Well, at least Susan had her cell phone with her, or no telling when we would have either gotten to Fort Hunt, or given up and gone back. Let that be a warning to anybody who ever decides to let me plan an itinerary. I am hoping that Kelly will tactfully refrain from describing in detail our similarly unpredictable and much crazier afternoon AND evening in DC. Hint: it was supposed to be just an afternoon.

I’m not sure I like the honesty of experience as much as Lewis does, but I suppose it’s at least a little comforting that reality checks are always out there waiting for us when we lead ourselves astray. No doubt about it, experience will eventually offer some much-needed course correction if we allow it.  Just remember to keep your eyes open. Especially if you’re with me.

41 Comments

  1. Carolyn

    Been there before, so now I check out every place that I might need before we start out. Thanks for your blogs, I enjoy reading what is on your mind. Love you and the family. More later.

    • Thank you Carolyn. I hope you realize how happy I am to have you here with us. When I look back over our lives, you are one of the heroes. Or should I say “she-roes” 🙂 as Maya Angelou might say. Matt and I keep you and Terry in our prayers. I am so thankful for your victorious milestone this year!!

  2. . . . or if you’re with me. The late Carlyle R. Hedden used to go along with me on such forays – – up to a point. Then, his exasperation would be a little more emphatic than Oliver Hardy’s, “it’s a fine mess you’ve gotten us into now, Stanley!”

    • Yes, and unless I miss my guess, many of those incidents took place in some woodland much more remote than the one Susan and I explored, and long before there was such a thing as cell phones to call for help. I was an adult before I realized how much we all benefited from Daddy’s years of being a flight instructor. I came to see that background as the source of much of his wisdom AND patience. Of course, in the woods, his Eagle Scout status probably meant even more.

      • I agree with all the points you made about “our Daddy”. But, on the same subject in this blog, yet at a venue where he was not present: I left a hotel, in Ocean Beach, CA (San Diego area), on foot. My destination was the Cabrillo National Monument. It was whale watching season. The concierge said it was about a three mile walk – perfect. (Again, it was in the days before smart phones, with GPS apps.) After walking at a good pace for over an hour, and no Pacific in sight, I stopped to buy water at a convenience store. “How far to Cabrillo, where they watch whales?” His answer did not cause me despair. Instead, I left the store laughing. “Oh it’s not far”, he assured me, “only about 3 or 4 miles”. When I finally arrived at my destination, and looked back down the road from whence I’d come, I saw a sign: “Ocean Beach 8 miles”. After viewing, I took the bus back to the vicinity of the hotel. W W C D (what would Carlyle do?)

        • Eric, this story is hilarious and anyone who knows you can believe it actually happened exactly like that. It reminded me of when we went to Montego Bay and as our parents tended to do, we eschewed cabs for the most part in favor of walking or riding the public bus system. By the second or third day, we had noticed that every time we asked someone how far it was to some specific place, the answer seemed always to be “quarter mile” which was often an extreme underestimation of the actual distance. The phrase “quarter mile” became an inside joke for us after that.

          As for your question “W W C D” — OF COURSE we know exactly what he would have done. He would have never gone to the whale watching beach, and probably would not have even known about it. He would have walked about a half mile down the beach right outside his hotel (he was very good at beach-combing as you may remember) and enjoyed it as much as if it had been some famous place. Then he would have gone by a little convenience store on the way back to his hotel, and bought some cheese and crackers and a book or magazine and spent the rest of the evening in his room, reading and eating crackers. Unless Mama and/or the rest of us had been with him. We would all have been lobbying for the trip to the whale watching beach, in which case he would have found out about the same bus you rode back, and we would have ridden it in both directions and he would have taken a lot of Ektachrome slides in which no whales were visible when we watched them after they were processed on our return.

          • Yep

          • Beth

            Julia, I still say “quarter mile.” 😊

            • Yes, so do we…and occasionally I even find myself singing, “YEEEELLLLOOOW Bird, so high in banana tree…” 😀 😀 😀

              • Beth

                Lovely and hilarious memories!

                • Beth, here’s a caption contest for this photo:
                  1. How much money do you suppose we’ll have to throw down there?
                  2. Do they intend symbolism? Like we’re the yellow bird and this is the banana tree?
                  3. Sorry, Sybil, I can’t hear you, I took out my hearing aids ten minutes ago.
                  4. We’d better go next door and check on Julia and Beth– I thought I heard them hatching plans to get the money thrown back up here.
                  5. YOUR ENTRY HERE!

  3. Janet Sawyer

    Ha Ha.

    • Janet, when I read this, I couldn’t help wondering whether you were remembering some of our adventures. BTW I recently had some photo negatives digitized, and a huge number of them feature you and family. Also the ones of us with the late Thomas Kinkade in his hometown of Placerville CA. Such happy memories of our times together, especially appropriate for Christmas!

  4. MaryAnn Clontz

    How delightful to be so enamored with God’s Beauty that you misjudged the length & the timing! Our grandson, Aaric, & I had a similar experience. As we were enjoying the magnificence of Muir Woods: redwoods, foliage, butterflies, flowers, the PEACE; we noticed a sign stating that a ranger would be presenting a talk. We checked the times & we were about 30 minutes early for the next one. On the other side of this trail is a sign pointing to a “Loop Trail”, promising a view of the Pacific Ocean. Aaric & I LOVE the ocean, so we decided to walk the loop & then attend the talk. As we walked for what seemed to be hours, we began asking which way to the ocean view (mostly unmarked trail). We, too, were unable to find anyone with helpful information. Aaric’s phone had little or no service. Eventually we walked UP a large hill to see only FOG! We did have a blast finding our way back (unmarked trail)! Needless to say, we missed the talk; but we felt very accomplished. AFTER we returned, we read the sign again. It stated 3.5 to 4 hours to walk the loop. We did it in about 2.5! Alas, if we had read the entire sign, we would have missed a joyful memory!

    I have missed being here to ponder your wonderful perspective! Much love to you & Matt!

    • Mary Ann, as always you put the most generous interpretation possible on my fumblings and bumblings. How I love you for it! I got your card with your news, and I have had you so much on my mind and in my heart. How heroic of you to keep silent about your own health situation. I had more than a few “flashbacks” reading what you wrote. Matt and I have kept you in prayer since then, and will continue to do so. I am so happy to see you back here. You bring sunshine with you wherever you go.

      I hope very much that you and I can someday visit Muir Woods together. As you probably know or could guess, it’s one of my favorite spots on earth, and I don’t remember ever visiting there (I lost count of how often I went) without wishing I could stay longer. I always left there feeling a bit more sane and seeing things in more perspective. I smiled when I read about your foggy vista; that too happened to us often (in Marin Headlands mostly, never at Muir) but in its own way, the blanket of fog seen from above is just as splendid. As my friend Pat sang out to me at the end of her visit with me this year, “What a mighty God we serve!” Matt and I love you and will hold you close in thought and prayer!!

      • MaryAnn Clontz

        Thank you for the prayers! You & Matt are very dear to me!

        • Mary Ann, I so appreciate the gifts you have given in Jeff’s memory, to various organizations dear to his heart. I think you know that he would have appreciated that more than anything bought in a store. Matt is sitting here as I write this and I asked him if he had a Christmas message for you. He said “We have been praying for you, and I love you, Ms. Mary Ann!” 🙂 I love you too!! May 2018 bring you “tidings of comfort and joy!”

    • Mary Ann, what a delightful perspective on “not reading the whole sign!”
      Just think of the things we’d miss, if we knew all of the implications of our decisions ahead of time!

      • So true!

  5. Harry Sims

    Chuck C. (Chamberlain) in his marvelous little book, “A New Pair of Glasses” declared that he has breakfast every morning with a different woman (his wife).

    You can’t step into the same river twice.

    Harry

    • Harry, it’s so important to remember that principle. Otherwise I think we fail to celebrate everyday life as we should. It’s what Shunryu Suzuki referred to as “Beginner’s Mind” and it is a trait that will serve us well. I think this may be part of what Jesus was getting at when he said we had to become like children to enter the kingdom of Heaven. Life is “new every morning!”

      • Harry Sims

        I ask for an open mind; I ask for a “Beginner’s Mind”.

        I ask to be wide open and receptive for what my Deskbot character announces to me will be a Brogdination and Eudemonic day.

        I had to look them up!

        It means “huge” and “happiness filled”.

        Can you imagine a little computer character announcing to you each morning that this will be a “Brogdination and Eudemonic day”?

        Only God knows what’s in store for us and I know it’s beautiful, good, useful and wonderful.

        PS little did I realize this morning that I was going to have this promise fulfilled because a cousin of mine sent me this link about Jingle Bells.
        I became so emotional that it brimmed over with joy, gratitude and tears. — https://www.youtube.com/embed/khQN5ylb3H0?rel=0

        • Harry, thanks for sharing that link. Makes me proud to be the wife of an Air Force man.

  6. This made me smile, Julia. The view is phenomenal! The distance to the nearest restroom can always be measured by how much tea we’ve had. I think I’m not nearly so venturesome as you. That said, it sounds like your exploits can be a lot of fun. So far, Kelly has not spilled the beans. 🙂

    • Marlene, you just came up with another great quote: “The distance to the nearest restroom can always be measured by how much tea we’ve had.” I’m willing to stay near the facilities in order to keep sipping away! 😀 Yes, sometimes the crazier exploits are the most fun, especially when looking back on them rather than enduring them in the present.

  7. Great post, Julia. Enjoyed the background info on C.S. Some of which I did not know.
    As per your near disaster; seems to my there was a lot of fauna that one could have ducked behind, especially when your hiking partner could double as a look-out! But, all ended well and even extended through the evening.
    -Alan

  8. raynard

    Julia this is what comes to my mind.Next week is our Christmas party on my job. We are combining 2 into one for the first time. Last year I brought in two large sub sandwiches cut up.Why? Cause the year before I cooked Spanish Rice with Hawaiian Marinaded Chicken for 8 people. Only 2 people ate it.After listening observing people’s lunch eating habits the last 2 years, instead of making for ” 29 people” it will only be for” the first come first serve only 10. Young people on my job” eat fast food and ” junk” not home cooked food'” Keeping the simple” simple”, simply put.. We had snow yesterday afternoon and” people believe Santa before they believe the Weatherman. We also had snow Tuesday and all people say is I don’t believe it/ I didn’t know we were getting snow.Up cooking and baking for my church’s potluck this afternoon. Hope you and Matt are well in spirit as this holiday season” speeds up to the finish. Watching that old Yule time LOg Fireplace someone recorded and posted on Youtube. Hope to hear from you soon and that you had a good Thanksgiving

    • Raynard, Jeff and I noticed long ago that there always ends up being so much food at these gatherings that a lot of stuff goes uneaten. So we started opting to bring easy stuff too. Having said that, I have noticed that the one thing that always seems to be eaten up by the time I get through the line is if anybody makes a plate of deviled eggs. I guess it’s because that’s something we can’t go out and buy very easily. Thanks for your good wishes! Matt and I are having a very nice holiday so far. Not at all like any Christmas Past, but we are learning to live with happy memories and are enjoying many blessings that still remain. Thanksgiving was very good. My sister and brother-in-law and Jeff’s aunt (who is not much older than I am and is a close friend) all came to spend Thanksgiving with us and my brother-in-law got quite a bit of work accomplished, such as getting our old lawn mower started and mowing the lawn one last time before winter. We did the simple thing where food was concerned and all went out to Cracker Barrel for Thanksgiving Dinner. It was a wonderful meal and nobody had to wash any dishes. 😀

      • Julia, I’m glad you’re making new memories, while honoring the past. Any holiday without dishes is A-OK in my book. Well done, all of you. We don’t have Cracker Barrel restaurant’s out here. I’m wondering if they are related to the brand Cracker Barrel Cheese? Sending love your way.

        • Alys, I don’t think the two are related, but it’s a similar vibe they’re marketing. Comfort food, from before we all started to count calories. As you say, one of the best parts is walking away from the dishes (which are washed and re-used rather than going into a landfill). Thanks for sending the love! It is returned with gratitude. The gifts you sent us most recently (not to be confused with the lovely surprises you’ve been sending all along) are sitting at our fireplace waiting for Christmas morning. 🙂

  9. Sheila

    Good morning, dear friend. ☕️ Good morning to Matt, as well! 😀 How often we have walked “ just a little bit farther” knowing our destination is “around the bend”. Bill usually underestimates the distance to get me to PARTICIPATE. The beautiful springlike day that we spent in Alexandria was a wonderful time to wander around Old Towne, although those brick streets required my “ old lady comforts” a.k.a. orthopedic footwear. Have you ever noticed that walking on the beach usually finds you walking way farther than you’d intended? 🌊 I’ve loved reading this post (and walking with you) and the delightful comments. ❤️

    • Thank you, Sheila. As you know, I’m one who loves walking, and it might be that beach walking is my very favorite kind. Yes, when strolling a beach, I tend to go as far as nature (in the form of obstacles such as cliffs or rocks) or private property lines (in the form of fences and walls) will allow. I loved Hawaii because, by law, all beachfront was public land accessible to all. The hotels have to provide for public access paths to the beaches. But I digress, as Raynard might say. Thanks for walking with me, literally and figuratively, for over five years now! The way has been steep and hard in spots, but we have been blessed with some stunning views. Thinking of you with love and gratitude. ❤

  10. Mike

    Yesterday I heard a reading Truman Capote’s “Christmas Story.” It has always been a favorite and this was the first time – I had got the spoken version. Very nice. Truman was from Alabama? I believe. Beautiful story.

    • Mike, I have always intended to read that story, but have never gotten around to it. Thanks for the recommendation — I’ll try to make it a priority next year. Yes, Capote was from Alabama, and grew up as a neighbor and close friend to (Nell) Harper Lee. They remained friends through most of their adult life, I believe.

  11. Rene

    This reminds me of my return from visiting my mom in Arizona last spring break. I decided to fulfill a goal of visiting Bagdad Café (have you ever seen the movie?). It is of the I-40 but a detour from the route I usually take through Amboy, CA. While eating a hamburger and potato salad that tasted just like my grandma used to make, I asked a local if there was anyway I could get back home without getting back on I-40. He told me of a route that he said would drop me off on the 29 Palms Hwy in Yucca Valley (I am assuming you know where I’m talking about because of your travels), right where I normally go. I was really excited; but the road was meandering, long and lonely. At one point, I was behind either a logging truck or a mobile home mover, I can’t remember which, only that we were going about 25 mph on a twisty two-lane road. I don’t like to pass on the wrong side of the road in any case but I wasn’t even going to attempt it with all the curves. I was finally able to stop at a gas station in Johnson Valley so I could call home. I did end up on my usual route, like I was told; but what is normally a 4 1/2 hour trip took about 8 hours (including my lunch). I felt like an idiot but I did see part of California I probably never would have otherwise.

    • Rene, I have never been to the Baghdad Cafe and truthfully, didn’t even realize it was a real place. I have to see the movie now! And then maybe go there in person myself. I loved reading about your unexpected adventure because it brought back memories of my very first time to see that San Bernardino area, way back in January 1990 when we first moved west. That area fascinates me because I always found it amazing that people could live out there where it is so dry and seemingly barren in places. I had always heard of Palm Springs and pictured a lush tropical resort such as in the Caribbean, but as you know, it was nothing like that! However, the desert has charms of its own, even though it’s an acquired taste for most of us.

      I am so prone to taking wrong turns and getting my directions confused, that I do get to see quite a lot of things I probably never would have otherwise. 😀 I think you have touched on a great way to re-frame such experiences. I have come to realize that one key to aging happily is to be able to look at things from a different angle. In the words of a longtime favorite song of mine by Carly Simon, “Take a look around now/Change the direction/Adjust the tuning/Try a new translation…” Thanks for sharing this fun story for me. I now have another place to learn about and dream of visiting…the Baghdad Cafe! I’ll start with the movie. 🙂

  12. Rene

    Bagdad is actually a ghost town; the cafe where the movie was shot is actually in Newberry Springs and had a different name. It was renamed after the movie and had been a sort of Mecca for European tourists.

    • Fascinating! I wonder how many such ghost towns there are, especially in remote areas out west. There are so many great local stories to discover.

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