I read recently that “serendipity” is looking in a haystack for a needle and discovering the farmer’s daughter.
It would truly be a lucky boy who would find such a treasure in a haystack when he was just looking for his car keys. That’s the way I felt this morning after awakening from a delightful dream in which I had finally been awarded my PhD in ancient languages. The rub was that I have never sought such a distinction. In addition, no one in the dream had ever heard of any of the languages that I had been studying. It was all little more than some flight of fancy on my own part that had taken me on some sort of academic adventure. It was a long way from the farmer’s daughter, though.
But such are the stuff that dreams are made on.
Since I am usually just baffled by my sleeping dreams, I focus more on my other kind of dreams while awake and how they concentrate my attention on what is still possible as well as where they can lead me. What interests me least are the bucket list dreams, as though we go through life putting a check beside or scratching a line through some activity that holds our fancy for a moment. Jumping out of an airplane just for the thrill of it or visiting some exotic spot just to brag about the trip is simply foreign to me. The Walter Mitty who goes into a trance seeing himself falling into a WWII bombing dive or trying desperately to out swim the crocodiles is beyond my pale.
When Walter Mitty takes me by the hand, he leads me into imagining other ways to enjoy my life as it is. I dream of ways I can delight even more in the fields and forests where I live and am most comfortable. I like to go on occasion to other sides of the mountains where there are new playgrounds that are also inviting and fun, but my own stomping grounds are enough to satisfy me. At my time in life, my best travel seems to be more between my ears. Some of the most enjoyable flights of my fancy are the serendipitous ones that lead me back home where I can see the familiar through new eyes.
Since we’re limited to only one life (as far as I know), I’m keen on finding ways to enhance the pleasure in the one I know. There are always alternate universes or paths not yet taken to open my eyes to new appreciation. These are the openings to let me get my mind around new ideas. All these possibilities lead me to think more about certain fields of study I’ve often envied, such as the work of archaeologists. Such jaunts have me down in a hole or on my hands and knees sifting through an historic site. At other times, I can see myself with a metal detector sweeping through English fields in search of artifacts ranging from the huge stash of recently discovered Anglo-Saxon coins to the lonely solitude of some heavily worn away talisman.
The son of a friend is a “detectionist” in England and regularly walks the fields with a metal detector in search of historical artifacts. In my part of the world, though, I cannot imagine finding anything so rare as what is buried under the English turf. Instead, what I would only hope to venture upon would be the remnants of some simple frontiersman whose belongings have mostly been lost to time. Still, a fragment of a hoe or horseshoe mired below the surface of what was once an apple orchard in my meadow beyond the rock pile would fetch back a bit of a lost lifestyle. Perhaps those men and women, long since gone, who cleared that field and tugged the stones from the earth, would be amused to know that a current-day Walter Mitty had found something of them.
As I dig around on the computer looking for a simple tree house to build on a platform, I find myself making the link between designing the new structure and finding worth by sifting about in the ground. What has yet not come though in the various plans I’ve unearthed is similar to what has not yet surfaced in an archaeological dig. It’s there. I just have to keep looking for it. So returning to the drawing board, I sketch in the ancient Walnut tree in the meadow and begin to plan the way Walter Mitty might in search of what will appear next.
As my pencil traces forms on the paper, I project myself into the spring and summer looking down from the tree house’s vantage point when the ground has long since thawed and the meadow filled up with tall grasses. From there, I can easily conjure up the image from early last spring when we came upon a black snake also enjoying a long-awaited warm and sunny day. As we wandered through the open area and into the woods, we were pleasantly surprised to find this fully stretched out fellow sunbathing to his full enjoyment. We watched him as he watched us, neither of us quite willing to part company for a while. We were first to blink, though, and left him undisturbed in his slumber.
Back to my drawing board, I am also able to sketch that part of the woods where earlier this winter I searched about for a boundary rod sunk into the ground. So far, though, it has remained elusive. The search is not really necessary, though, since the land on both sides is under my care. I don’t think of “owning” the land in the sense that it’s mine. Rather, I think of myself only as its custodian for the few more years I have the privilege of walking along its paths. I feel at ease here, almost a sense of peace in its silence and majesty. There are deer, squirrel, coon, possum, fox, the occasional bear and of course snakes that also follow these paths. To bring our eyes upward, we have the sound and sight of the many birds that are in the trees.
And things are constantly in motion. It’s not that many years ago that I saw a hawk fly through the trees without touching a branch to nab a motionless squirrel clinging up high to a tall oak. The squirrel thought it was safe in the quiet. As I watched the raptor snatch the squirrel, I was reminded that it was just another of life’s little serendipitous events.
Since we have much more of winter ahead, I will spend part of it at my big table drawing more sketches of various tree houses in search of a design that especially appeals to me. With any luck, my end result will become a new viewing spot to watch over the adjoining meadow and wood line. I hope to include all the details I need and leave nothing to ambiguity, all the while leaving some room for the fanciful, the folly that makes it all the more enjoyable, the serendipitous.