There are any number of paths in this world (and others) and they can be both physical and spiritual. They range from those nature places at our disposal like the humble and well-worn animal trail in the woods to the canyon and mountain passes that exist to show us the all-encompassing grandeur of a world that we can barely comprehend. There are likewise those of man-made origin, built to illustrate the limitless nature of the human spirit to use billions of taxpayer dollars in its quest to connect two things that have never been connected before (at Union scale, of course). They range from the architectural marvel of the 'Chunnel' which finally connected England with France (which seems rather curious, since the French and English have never much liked each other, and fought numerous wars to prove this); to the folly of the 'Big Dig' which connects Boston with ... well, Boston (which is likewise curious, but for entirely different reasons).
There are pathfinders who blaze trails for those who will follow, career paths that set each of us on our life's journey, and the 'path not chosen' that we sometimes look back upon with regret. The path that I was moving through was nothing like any of those however. In fact, it is like nothing that I can describe. My journey through this pathway had a beginning and an end. It also had a point of origin and a destination. I can't say when I exchanged my intended path for the former however, and was not entirely sure when it ended at the latter, since it wasn't my expected or intended point of arrival. It was it a journey that, like always, seemed to take both forever and no time at all. (I'll just bet you're a little confused right now, but wait, it's still early.) One step I was entering a metal tunnel to an airplane door, and the next step I was …
Well as best I could tell, I was in a field. I looked behind me to see if there was anything to show for the path I had apparently traveled, and of course there wasn’t. My destination (or point of entry, depending on how you looked at it) appeared to be exactly the same as any other around me; with no distinguishable 'enter' or 'exit' signs posted for the convenience of travelers. Looking around me, I noticed a tree line and the beginnings of a substantial forest behind me. As forests go, I can’t say that this one looked all that deep, dark, or intimidating; but since whatever had brought me here had seen fit to put me on this side of it, it seemed expedient to have it behind rather than in front of me, and I decided to bend every effort to keep it that way.
So putting whatever minor dread I might have felt and its cause behind me, I faced forward again. In this direction, I was back to facing the open field, and its open nature made it a much more pleasant sight to behold. There was a sun shining brightly above me at the moment, and fluffy clouds were moving gently in a light breeze. It appeared to be just after noon (based on the position of the sun in the sky), so the shadows, including my own, were minimal. Gently rolling hills stretched before me in this direction for as far as I could see, though because of the nature of the hills, that wasn't all that far. From the height of the grass and the blooming of the flowers, I would have guessed that it might be early spring (and I would have been right).
In this direction there was also a decent sized body of water off to my far right; with sunlight glimmering off of mostly still water that the light breeze rippling across it barely stirred. There wasn’t a sign of man or beast immediately to be seen in any direction, but it seemed incongruous that I would be brought all this way (not that I knew how far that was), only to be alone in a field. With no real sense of purpose, but with an unshakable feeling that doing something is better than standing around feeling stupid, I found myself setting off across the field in the general direction that I was facing.
Why is it that people believe that doing something is better than doing nothing? If history has taught the human race anything, it's that doing nothing (and saying less) is usually the best possible course of action in any given situation. One seldom gets in trouble while standing still, touching nothing, and speaking to no one (and some government drones have made entire careers out of such behavior). Human beings however, since the day that they climbed down out of the trees (maybe our first mistake), seem only content when they feel that they are doing something, or at least attempting to do something to or about the world around them. Most of the time it doesn’t really matter whether what they're doing does any good or not, or can even be noticed. This seems especially to be the case when the person or people involved have no knowledge or experience in the efforts that they are making (you know, like politics). The concept that this non-stop blundering forward may have allowed us to evolve to the top of the food chain on our shiny, blue planet may be true; but no one has yet been able to prove that the concepts of progress or evolution are good thing. I can't help but wonder if maybe a little more patience might have produced wisdom instead of activity and led us down a different path entirely. Maybe the planet wouldn’t have had to deal with all of the self-inflicted pain and suffering that we seem intent on committing on any number of innocent fellow species in our haste to have an impact on the world around us. Oh well, too late to worry about what might been for the planet, or even what I might have done. I had already started moving.
The smell of the flowers was enticing and refreshing as I began to make my purposeless way through the field, though I didn’t recognize any of the blooms. There was no great surprise in that, since I think that roses, tulips, and daisies might be the only flowers that I would recognize by sight or smell. It’s not that I object to flowers on some physical or emotional level, I don’t. In fact, most of the time I truly enjoy them; and once upon a time I felt myself quite the gardener. I just didn’t make a big deal about what was but one in a endless string of interests and phases in my life; left behind as quickly as they became a part of it. As is often the case, this particular phase never lasted long enough for me to take the time to learn more than the rudiments; and far less than I should have. I was simply content to enjoy them for their beauty and their fragrance, and remain in ignorance.
That’s not the only, or even the best thing about flowers though; and while we are touching on the subject I can’t resist giving you my opinion on this one. The best and most astonishing thing about flowers is the look on a woman’s face right after you've given them to her. Better still, is the look that you get the first time you see her after you've sent them to her at her place of employment; especially when it's for no apparent reason. This allows her the humble smugness permitted while thanking everyone who compliments her on how beautiful the flowers are; all the while claiming no knowledge as to why she received them with unfeigned innocence. No one actually believes this patently absurd excuse from her, which makes the smile that she gets while everyone else is speculating on the subject even more delightful, and worth its weight in gold. It also makes her a discerning woman among her peers for selecting for herself the type romantic slob that does such things, and which every woman would secretly like to have in her life. This becomes yet another source of sighs and jealousy, and garners bonus points. This seemingly incongruous behavior on the part of the man in question, is in fact a carefully conceived plot on his part to gain points with the woman in question; points he will inevitably require in the future as a mitigating factor for when he inevitably does something silly, juvenile, and probably downright STUPID (or fails to do something he was supposed to).
This particular bit of arcane knowledge has been a closely guarded secret that only a few select men have been privy to, and revealing it to you here may in fact cost me a long-sought and rather hard-earned membership in a particular secret society of men. I am willing to risk of excommunication and banishment however, if for no other reason than to see that look on more womens' faces. (Besides, I never liked wearing the funny hat or doing the secret handshake at the all too infrequent meetings, though that may have something to do with the 'cash only' bar.)
I was therefore able to enjoy the flowers in spite of my lack of knowledge, and maybe because of it. You see, not knowing anything about the subject allowed me to not feel that there was nothing strange about them. The grass around them was another matter entirely. Since all boys are taught at an early age to understand the basic mysteries of grass while being taught the more advanced intricacies of weed control, dandelion pulling, and mowing, and eventually moving on to advanced studies in crabgrass and edging; there was no way for me to plead to ignorance. Maybe the blades of grass themselves were too wide or too narrow, I don’t recall. Maybe it was a shade of color that didn’t ring true to my vision. Maybe it was something as simple as the way that it laid that was just a little strange. Whatever it was, it was something completely unfamiliar to me and its sight made me more than a little nervous. The thought “You’re not in Kansas anymore” kept running through my head.
I understood this kind of moment from past experience. When running into unfamiliar situations, I find that the lines from old movies or songs often pop into my head. In fact, as I reach this part of my journey (and this tale), I remembered a line from an old Peter Weller movie, 'The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across Eighth Dimension' running through my head that went, “No matter where you go, there you are.” I don’t understand why this sort of thing happens to people, or even if it does for all of them. I’m sure that we all have had “our songs” when we are dating as kids. We all have movie stars or musicians that we would have wished to look or be more like. We all have characters from movies or TV shows that we believe we can identify with in some strange fashion and performances that have had a great impact on our impressionable minds.
Maybe it’s that most of us today have lived some part of our existence in the fantasy world of music, movies, and television for the greater part of our lives. The fact that some part of our actual existence relates to that world makes us feel that much like the movies, everything will all be alright in the end. Maybe it’s just that we all wished we could live in that world where men were men, women were women, and animals were animals (except when they could talk or we could hear their thoughts, in which case they were usually animated characters ... and that’s something completely different which can normally be treated with anti-psychotics). Maybe we all want to think that the world where is simply a place where good will triumph over evil and love will conquer all. On the other hand, maybe none of this has ever happened to you and all of this sounds completely delusional. Maybe this kind of thing simply doesn’t happen to other people the way it happens to me. If not, chalk it up to the funny wiring previously mentioned.
For some reason, I found myself bearing gradually towards the water as I walked. Oh sure, water normally finds the lowest point, so walking downgrade is certainly easier; but that wasn't the reason. Again, I don’t know that I can actually say why my path led in that directioni, but I have to admit that it did look wonderfully inviting. It also never hurts to be near water when you are in a strange place. Where there is water, there is usually life of some kind. Sometimes it can be hostile, as predators like to hang out around water holes in the hopes of snagging a free lunch; but it also leads to prey, and a guy has to eat. Mostly though, I think water makes for a friendly kind of place, like the office coffee pot or water cooler area. It's a place where you can find out all the latest gossip from and about your friends and co-workers, and waste a fair part of your day in other mindless and meaningless pursuits (usually while getting paid for it). Even if there are some dangers involved with these areas (and the dangers of water cooler gossip are overlooked at one’s peril), in the end it beats the hell out of living out your existence in the confines of a cubicle (or working for a living). At the very least, assuming its fresh water, its proximity keeps you from being thirsty.
Again, I noticed as I approached the water, there was an underlying sense of strangeness about it. The water was a beautiful shade of blue; but just as with the grass, I wasn’t sure that it was one that I was at all familiar with. In fact, as I think about it now, it was closer to the blue of the water in a toilet when you used one of those tablets to help keep it clean. (Why the color blue should reassure us as to the cleanliness of a toilet is beyond me, but a lot of companies who make these kinds of tablets seem to think so and have undoubtedly spent millions of dollars to provide us with this apparent comfort.)
Not everything looked out of place however. The young man that was coming into view sitting in a chair near the shore looked pretty normal (at least from a distance), and seemed perfectly at home relaxing by the water. I would like to say the same thing about the dog at his side, a beautiful animal that looked very much like a golden retriever. The problem was that the dog was the same color as the lake water, which is not something you see every day without a story worth hearing about a dog, a toilet, and a terrible accident. That didn't however, appear to be the case here.
At first I wondered what the young man might be up to. I didn’t think it was fishing, since he didn’t have a fishing rod. The same would go for hunting (no gun that I could see), reading (no book), or even rock skipping (no rocks). Perhaps he was simply seeking a spot for the contemplation of the beauty of nature. Perhaps he was sleeping off a few cocktails in the afternoon sun from a prior night’s festivities. Maybe he was just smart enough or rich enough to be able to get away lazing about in this beautiful setting any time that he wanted to. The only thing that I knew for sure at this point was that my speculations on the way he was occupying his time appeared to be much more stressful to me than the way that he was spending it was to him. The dog was not doing anything particularly stressful either, except wagging its tail in that gentle way that a dog does when it knows that someone loves it and all is right with the world.
I didn’t want to intrude on the quiet and privacy of the moment, but my curiosity has a tendency to get the better of me (often to my downfall). There was also the part of my situation where any inherent shyness was overcome by the desire to find out where in the hell I was. This meant that I would have to find a way to announce myself with as little disturbance as possible. I knew without being told that I would need to do this in such a way so as to reassure both the man and the dog of my good intentions, as either can be a dangerous animal when startled, frightened, or in any way made angry. I considered a number of possibilities, none seeming more ingenious than the others; and none of which particularly appealed to me. What I settled on was a simple, “excuse me”. (I know it's stupid, but what would you say?)
The young man turned in his seat, and a smile slowly spread across his face. It was a handsome smile on a handsome face, the kind every young man dreams that he will be able to give (Especially if it's to a beautiful woman and at the right moment. This moment did not qualify as such, but did at least reassure me.) Defined by a firm chin, and an unremarkable nose, he had deep brown eyes that seemed to inspire calm. All of this was framed by sun highlighted brown hair, cut to shoulder length. The dog also turned and also smiled. Yes, dogs do smile, and most people know that. If you are one of those who does not, it’s because you are a person who does not or has never owned a dog. I would tell you to run out and get one immediately, as it is an experience that everyone should participate in, but being that kind of person already, you probably wouldn’t listen anyway. No matter. Read on. The smile that the dog gave me was not that “I am going to be having you for lunch shortly” smile, but that “welcome to the party, glad you came” smile that, from a dog, immediately reassures you. The pace of tail wagging also increased, and in combination with the smiles, did indeed reassure me. Though neither rose to their feet, I immediately felt better about my safety and situation.
“He said you would be coming, and that I should wait here,” the young man said. “Welcome.”
“Thank you for you greeting and your kindness,” I replied as formally, politely, and congenially as possible. (Congeniality is always best when you don’t know what the hell is going on.) “I would like to ask you who ‘He’ is, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I already know.”
“He said that you would say that too,” he said, and the smile broadened to show off a perfect set of teeth (This was not surprising, but was testing my firmness of resolve. If my first impression wasn’t to like this guy, such continued displays of perfection could eventually really made me hate him.).
“Please, sit down,” he said without rising, and waved to an empty chair on the other side of the dog that I know hadn't been there an instant before.
So I sat, and for a few moments nothing happened. I sat for a few more, and nothing continued to happen. I continued to sit, and I was beginning to feel a contest of wills between me and the nothing going on. The nothing of course, won handily. I was therefore able to relax as we all stared out at the water, enjoying the gradual calming affect that water seems to have on the spirit. Have you ever noticed that water always relaxes people? It doesn’t matter if it is a hot tub with soothing jets of water washing away your every ache and pain (sorry about the commercial), just a wonderful hot bath or shower, the sound of a rain shower, the sound of water in a fountain, ocean waves beating against a shore, or even one of those cheap recordings of the sound of water. It always seems to get to me anyway, and it always seems to make me feel better about whatever I am in the middle of. They say that as a species, human beings came out of the water in our prehistoric past. They usually go on to say that the sound of water takes us back not only to that past, but to the warm liquid environment where we all began the first months on our journey of life in our mothers' wombs. All well and good I say, but if that’s the case, then how do the explain why ice sounds so good when its going into a glass right before the whiskey?
I reached down at some point and began to scratch the dog behind the ears. It seemed a perfectly natural thing to do under the circumstances, as almost everyone likes to scratch dogs behind their ears, and almost every dog enjoys it equally well. This one seemed to at any rate, as he was kind of leaning firmly into my scratching hand.
“Wonderful here, isn’t it?” he said.
“Yes it is, and it’s a beautiful day for it.”
“Yes, this is that perfect kind of day made just for taking time for a relaxing moment by the water. By the way, could you move just a little lower on that right ear, if you don’t mind?”
It was only then that I realized that the voice I had just heard was not that of the young man, but that of the dog. Now normally, a thing like this would put me right off of my day. I'm not used to talking dogs, cats, white mice, or goldfish. I know having just experienced such an event, I should have leaped out of the chair with a monumental exclamation of surprise and run screaming down the shoreline, but I didn’t. Something about the entire situation had put me enough at ease that I didn’t react at all. Well actually I did react, I moved lower on the dog’s right ear, and continued to scratch.
“Ah, that’s the spot,” he said, and began to paw the ground with his back right leg the way that a dog will do when you are scratching him in just the right spot. (Men will often do this as well, especially when you are scratching them in just that right spot … uh, never mind.)
Whether in shock or simple ignorance of what to do next, I did and said nothing. The silence returned to the day, and for a while everything seemed to stand still. There was only the wind, the water, and scratching the dog. In spite of my initial feeling of concern, I wished that such a moment could last forever, or at least to seem to. The time was soon to come however when someone would have to break the silence. Nothing good ever comes from breaking such silences, and we are usually just given information that makes us more afraid than any lack of knowledge ever did. Humans are an invariably curious species however, and this growing silence was beginning to become ponderous. Perhaps I would have given into the fear that was now growing in me, but I never got the chance.
“We’re certainly glad that you finally got here,” the young man said.
“Indeed,” added the dog with a small shake of his head to show that he was content with the amount of scratching that he had already received and needed no more. “We have been waiting ever so long.”
“I’m a little confused,” I replied. “No wait, let me rephrase that. I'm a lot confused. I'm not sure where I am. I have no idea how in the hell I got here, and I don’t know who either of you are. I likewise don’t know how golden retrievers get to be blue or how any dogs, blue or otherwise, can talk. I don’t even know why all of this isn’t bothering me more than it is. Yes, I think that that pretty well sums up my lack of understanding of the situation.”
“I’m terribly sorry,” the dog replied. “I am Arturo, and this is my friend Phillip, Prince Phillip of Macundo. You of course are Sean, Sean of America.”
At this point, I was quickly moving from simple confusion to utter panic. It's always a scary thing when people that you don't know, know you. Maybe it’s because you’re afraid of how much they know. Maybe it’s that you know that the only way that they could know anything about you is if someone has been speaking about you out of your presence, and you don’t know what they've said. Maybe its because you're sure that someone has been ratting you out, and you have a number of guilty suspicions about what they've probably said. Maybe it’s because you think that you have met these people in the past, and you have just embarrassed and humiliated yourself horribly by somehow forgetting that meeting. Having it happen that both people (one of them a prince, by the way) and dogs know about you in a place that you know damn well you could never have been to before takes the situation from panic to abject, soul-freezing terror.. I'm sure looking back at it, that my eyes were spinning around in my head like one of those silly black cat clocks. Well enough for the clocks I suppose, as that's what they were designed to do (though they always seemed ridiculous to me); but most unflattering and embarrassing for anything and anyone else. I know that I felt suddenly hot, flushed, and light-headed. I seriously thought about fainting (Which is pretty amazing. Oh not the fainting, but that I was able to actually think about fainting at the time). I ultimately decided that any such behavior would be a mostly futile gesture, as I was seated, and fainting would hardly have the dramatic effect it normally does. In the end, I believe I settled for making the fish face.. Sure, you know what the fish face is. It’s that look that people make by moving their mouths up and down like a fish out of water and gasping for … water, with no sound coming out. Of course, it then occurred to me that maybe such expressions were not futile in this world. After all, if dogs could talk, maybe a fish out of water could tell you to put it back instead of simply moving its mouth uselessly.
“You don’t look at all well Sean,” Prince Phillip said. “Is there something that we can get you? Maybe you would like something cold to drink?”
I must have begun to make a vaguely affirmative nodding motion with my head while continuing the embarrassing movement with my mouth, since I noticed during the downward motion of this process, that there was now a small table next to the chair that I was sitting at. On that table, placed precisely on matching coasters, were a frosted glass of water, and an equally frosted mug of beer. There was a brief moment when the consideration of the coasters almost overwhelmed me. Then I realized that any prince worth his salt could not possibly have served instantly appearing drinks on an instantly appearing table without providing coasters to keep the the glassware from leaving rings on the table. Having satisfied myself as to that bit of reasoning, my body decided that it had had just about enough of the nonsense that my mind had been putting up with without complaint, and did what my body seemed incapable of doing. In other words, I fainted.