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I’d been waiting outside the reunion hall for their arrival, hoping to spend a few short minutes with The Grand Otter and her dad as they passed through on their way to visit more family a little further down the road. We’ll reconnect Sunday and, Monday, start two or three days on the road back with her, but The Muse and I had not seen her since last October, and on that visit she was wearing a bright orange jump suit and we were not allowed to hug without the scowling guard’s permission, and we were both eager to reconnect.

Their passage from The Cities had been a rough one. Forced by a fierce storm into an abandoned bar’s parking lot in Western Minnesota, they’d been trapped for a while in their car, one of the worst places to hunker through a tornado warning. They couldn’t see through the wind-blown rain pounding on the windshield, and, of course, they’d been trying to outrun the storm when finally cornered, and they both had to pee. I’ll omit the details, but acknowledge that harrowing experiences often seem to be accompanied by the most common human urge. Buzz Aldren reported that the first thing he did when he stepped onto the surface of the moon was pee.

After an interminable few minutes, they continued their rush toward the next rest stop, only to find a tree blown down across the roadway. A few minutes helping other drivers clear a path, and they were on their way, finding porcelain shortly thereafter. Let’s chalk this one up to father-daughter bonding.

Sara complained that I hugged her too tightly then accepted my offer to find her a soda at the reunion bar. She hit the dessert bar, too, and nabbed a couple of packages of portion-controlled cheese crumbles before joining her dad and The Muse in some extremely large small talk.

Those first few minutes after a long separation, after the relieving hugs are out of the way, get spent reveling in whatever ordeal culminated in the arrival. These stories might be interpreted as complaining, except they are pretty much the complete opposite. They might border on bragging, the enthusiastic testimony of people who extended their experience beyond the same-old everyday routine into true adventure. Listen closely and you’ll hear the wonder of anyone surprised by their life’s sudden vitality.

The Muse says we’re meant to roam around, to get out and into the world, if only to offset the terrible human tendency to accurately predict. Sure, we can foresee what we carefully control, and even mistake the purpose of life to be to carefully orchestrate outcomes, and thereby miss the point. We’re probably never closer to who we are than when we are disoriented, just as the imaginal future fades into some unexpected event. Of course we’ll invariably feel the overwhelming need to pee in that moment, further enhancing the story.

The Otter and I wandered outside while her dad and The Muse made the rounds inside the reunion hall. She showed me a packet of pictures of her newly discovered brothers and sisters and her newly recovered mom. She seemed vital again, chirpy, even; like The Otter I’d known before that awful fledging year just past. Finding her wings involved little flying, considerable crashing, and way too much court-ordered nesting time. Seeing her take wing after such a rough passage renews my optimism and leaves me feeling hopeful for myself. The stories, of course, gave me the opportunity to vicariously relive their harrowing adventure.

I seem a better hermit than I am a pioneer, though I recognize that my very best days have been spent in passionate pursuit. My peak experiences started when I veered off the path I’d proscribed for myself. Out here in the far from home world, new possibilities seem commonplace. We each seem somehow more alive. We hug less self-consciously. We feel genuine relief when we see that long-awaited car turn the corner and catch that first glimpse of our dear ones inside. We linger beside the open car door, hesitant to say goodbye again, even though the next hello will be that much richer for it.

I checked the maps this morning, starting to plot the course back into exile. No great routes presented themselves, and we will not plot any straight or narrow. I suspect we’ll load up The Grand Otter and head generally East, The Muse recalculating routes as we go. An hour later we’ll be heading into unknown territory, hoping for another rough passage.

©2013 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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