Recently it washed over me: Every minute of the day is part of the journey, sometimes losing perspective, sometimes regaining it.
Living in rural Maine, occasionally visiting the Nation’s Capital, then returning to Maine, my world goes from white and green, or snow, pines, blue jeans, and plaid, to marble floors and guarded doors, suits and ties – then back to shedding birches and quiet churches.
Years ago, I moved away, thinking rural America was the outlier, an anomaly in this vast nation of places to see, a respite from what was more urgent, what called for involvement, what seemed to matter, the vital business of Washington.
While I loved growing up in rural America, breezy summers, colorful falls, snowy winters, muddy springs, seeing the occasional moose, fisher, ermine, and bobcat, I imagined the Northwoods were just that – north of the action, not central to it.
How wrong was I? Very. Candidly, having grown up in the woods, I took an elective or professional detour, just lost my perspective on what mattered before.
But things from which you spring have a way of bringing you home. Life has a way of teaching what you knew and forgot, keeping you honest, focused, and true.
These days, it does that for me, day in and day out. What is local is focal, once again. What is core is what was at the start, friends, family, place, pace and peace of heart, the intersection of nature, time, and space, enough of each to see a leaf – in fact, every single one – flutter from a tree full of them, until it stands empty.
Some will ask, what is exciting about that? You might be surprised – or maybe not. There is excitement, or rather wonder and appreciation, in watching what happens outside the marble city, back in places where real people live.
For me, that is not just town meetings and coffee in the General Store, but watching a wild partridge, turkey, or skunk amble in the dooryard, or two squirrels try to reverse engineer an anti-squirrel birdfeeder, or watching four loons circle intensely on the lake, a primordial habit that presages an intent to migrate.
The other night, sitting outside in a quiet so quiet it rang in my ears, a full moon overhead, something descended suddenly from a towering pine on my left, caught air under enormous wings, passed at eye level, not one flap, then gracefully ascended to my right in the night – a bald eagle, six-foot wingspan, hunting. Steven Spielberg could not have created a better effect or touch of my soul, God’s show.
Yesterday morning, after wind whooped and ranted under my eaves all night, I put the kettle on, got a strong cup of coffee, and stepped outside – to discover my yard transformed into a sea of fallen pinecones, literally brown waves with white caps.
Then casting my vote last week in local elections, I found myself alone for a while, except for the presence of six thoughtful, dutiful, smiling, cheerful poll watchers.
People like to do their civic duty up here. They take democracy – or our republic – and all the duties it imposes seriously. Something beautiful resides in that too.
On occasion, I leave the woods for Capitol Hill, do my own duty, listening, learning, thinking and watching, to understand where our nation is headed. But having once lost perspective, I do not now anymore, even behind the guarded door.
Sometimes all the marble, those wide Capitol stairs, towering monuments, statues of men in long coats and on rearing horses, all the DC seriousness can still impress, but then I am reminded they all come to nothing, have no purpose, are just sails in the gale, without rural America, without little places like the one from which I hail.
America is where the big things happen, where stiff winds blow, massive pines creak, and people work eight days a week; where life is really lived, votes taken seriously, and each day is a challenge, more so when Washington looks away.
To me, just being there, where life is nothing if not real, weather and work inviting, occasionally downright challenging, is exciting. Having lost perspective, getting it back brings a certain comfort. Away from the fire too long, palms to it warm.
So, yes, every minute is part of the journey, sometimes losing perspective and sometimes regaining it. My eyes stay open, lessons yet to be learned every day.
Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.