Understand, I'll slip quietly away from the noisy crowd, when I see the pale stars rising, blooming, over the oaks. I'll pursue solitary pathways through the pale twilit meadows, with only this one dream: you come too. — Rainer Maria Rilke
There is a moment late in Dances With Wolves when the medicine man Kicking Bird says to John Dunbar: "of all the trails in this life, there is one that matters more than all the others. It is the trail of the true human being." My friend Eric has long wandered this path alone, seeking truth, but tomorrow he joins Amy in marriage. The match could not be more fitting: both are writers (he a novelist and essayist; she a poet) and teachers of writing.
There was a time when Eric pretended he was doomed to roam the northern wilds alone, a solitary Ranger of the North. He chronicled this period in his essay "The Last Hermit in New England," which also, however, catalogued a veritable bestiary of women with whom he had become entangled along the way. This was my favorite passage of the essay — in part because it betrayed the aloneness so solemnly professed — and it was Amy’s favorite too. She wrote, in an e-mail message secured by unknown sources: “I don’t know what it is exactly that separates me from them, and the other travelers that you met, but whatever it is, I’m glad I have it. Perhaps it is my own love of solitude. In this case, I like being an epilogue.”
Every ending, we know, is a new beginning, and every writer knows the significance of opening lines and how hard they are to come by. The writing life is one best pursued in solitude, for the navigation of outer and inner worlds demands the artist’s steady hand, and freedom. The writer draws upon love for the natural world — stars, trees, trails — to produce an inward cartography that charts fleeting moments, the ache of longing, and sometimes violent elemental forces. Eric championed the solitary life, gathering lore and gaining woodcraft, and yet the impulse was never selfish.
I would visit Eric's northern domain once or twice a year. With Eric as my guide, I learned the need for retreat into the wilderness, into the Source. Root and bark, leaf and stone, these became the lexicon of a new call to action. Eric’s restlessness pushed him towards, in his words, “persistent transformation of knowledge into practice.” But his greatest gift may be his prodigious capacity for pure enjoyment, for sharing the best of the world with others who may not yet see what it, and they, are capable of. His lust for life (there is no other way to say it) grabs hold of you and infects you in a way that is irresistible.
Frankly, there was never any doubt that Amy would find Eric on the trail, and he her. And if Amy is an epilogue, then she marks the best kind of ending, one that is both surprising and inevitable. She has drawn out of Eric a previously undiscovered patience, the stillness of a poet’s eye, a willingness to linger in a moment, to savor its weight and texture. (It is no accident they have found a shared passion for wine tasting and experimental cooking.) Amy and Eric have joined together without surrendering the vast distances within themselves. They have earned Rilke’s famous definition of love, wherein “two solitudes protect and border and greet each other.” Individually they have held to what is difficult; together they have created a new and wondrous trail magic.
So, Eric and Amy: slip quietly away. The noisy crowd, the world, will wait.