It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door. You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to. ~The Fellowship of the Ring
My grandma loved the outdoors. When I was little she would take me for walks around her backyard with her stopping to pull a weed or tell me the names of the bushes and flowers. As a teenager, summer meant that at some point Grandma would drive me to the Breaks Interstate Park. While we wound around what she called “kiss your butt” curves, she’d tell me stories about growing up in a coal mining town.
Once settled, we would drive further up the mountain to the overlooks and lean over the rails looking out over the gorge and the mountains. Grandma would always see things I missed, such as an eagle or a face in the side of a rock. No matter how clear her directions or how well she positioned me and pointed, I couldn’t find them.
“Now I know your eyes are better than mine, and you mean to tell me you can’t see that?”
We’d hike a few trails, not long ones, but we made them long enough. I would take pictures of the sunlight coming through the trees and Grandma digging up plants she wanted to take home even though my parents tried to explain it was illegal. She never could understand the rational, so home the little hemlock tree (or wildflower, or rhododendron) went. (It was also her idea to climb over the railing and lay flat on our bellies to get a better view of the gorge.)
She came to live with us the spring of my junior year of college. Grandma had been sick for several years and went through several rounds of treatment, but she still worked her full time job as a CNA at a nursing home, push-mowed her own yard because no one else could do it to suit her, climbed in her neighbor’s apple tree to cut it down with a chain saw—and took me to the Breaks for at least two nights every summer.
That August, right before driving six hours across the state to Union University, I painted her nails while she sat in the sun on the back deck. The thought came to me that this was probably the last time I would see her.
I had to arrive to school a few days earlier than my roommates for meetings and workshops, so I spent some of my alone time reacquainting myself with The Lord of the Rings. Since then, I’ve known Grandma was Bilbo, and I was Frodo.
She left for the Grey Havens two weeks into the school year, and I didn’t get to see her off.
But I think I inherited a bit of her love for the woods and mountains, and while I usually prefer to stay at home with my books and tea, every now and then I have a sudden urge to get away and go—well, I’m not quite sure where.
You see, many of my grandma’s stories about her life were characterized by wandering and an urge to pursue something, though she wasn’t quite sure what she wanted. Nearly everyone in the family knows about the time she went to the gas station for a loaf of bread, ran into a friend on his way to Jacksonville, Florida, and away she went. (Sorry, Flannery, but sometimes the grandmother does want to go to Florida.)
My family laughs at the free spirit, but after she passed away we found some of her journals, and some of the entries date from times she went to the Breaks as a young woman. She had mentioned to me that she used to take off and rent a cabin so she could think, read the Bible, and pray. No one knew where she’d gone.
I think she was a votary of the Blue Flower.
The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet,
And whither then? I cannot say.
by Bilbo Baggins of the Shire
The Fellowship of the Ring
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Fellowship of the Ring. Houghton-Mifflin. 2004.