Riding the Spine

About a month ago, I put in a request for a brief break from this writing gig. I stopped by the regular gathering of my own ways and means committee and asked them whether etching words on this blog was the way to reach my desired ends. The chairman of the committee (me) answered me, (awkward, I know), saying “perhaps ’tis, but perhaps ‘taint; take a month off and chase some poetry and butterflies.”  These were prophetic words from the one-man committee (on a good day, I have ways and means of being prophetic), so I took myself up on my own advice. After all, I am my own manager, which is the beauty of this blog thing I have going here.  

In any event, I left the serious writing bit to the professionals for an entire month, and come to find out, their prose, poetry, and opinions kept right on a-going without my input. In fact, on day five of my leave I found a particularly good poem that I suppose I might have missed had I kept on with the keeping-ons of this here blog.  I chased no bunny trails as a result of this good poem (please do read it), but I did step into the yard to examine an orange and black butterfly perched on the hedge. He flew before I reached his roost, so I jumped on my bike and followed him down the Fayetteville bike trail, the one that forms the concrete spine of our town. 

I rode the spine and found a great deal of nuance hiding where the cars don’t tread.  Here in these internet spaces, it’s easy to labor under the pretense that the world needs our words.  Riding the spine, you find that most of the folks that comprise “the world” ain’t waiting on baited breath for the publication of your latest epiphany. Mostly, they’re up to something else entirely.


There are two gents who commute to and from work every day. The younger rides a yellow job with an Italian-sounding name (a petite, racey thoroughbred); the older saddles up on an orange, steel-framed throwback. They ride at a sporty clip, the younger suffering the older’s slower legs. I listen to the man on the orange bike counsel the younger at the stoplight about God, or sex, or money. His advice seems as right as the turn they make every day on Maple street. I think I’d like to know him.

Three African students walk toward campus when the heat of the day has dissipated. They wear evening dresses that are canary and hummingbird shades of yellow, red, and green. The three girls play music from their homeland on a boombox reminiscent of my first Emerson, and they keep the volume at a proud level. I have never seen them not bouncing to a drum beat. I have never seen them not laughing. They are the joy of the trail, I think, and I wonder which country they call home. I am sure that their mothers miss them.

There is a cracked and dilapidated tennis court behind an apartment complex on North Street. If the trail is the spine, the tennis court is the latissimus dorsi. Students from southeast Asia gather there, bat the badminton birdie over the net. I see them standing, tiny racquets in hand, birdie on the ground. Most evenings they seem to bat only gossip over the net, but in the heat of an Ozark summer, even that can bring up a sweat.

I note a boy three days in a row. He’s been walking to work for what seems like forever. He is dark skinned and his forehead beads up under the black cap he wears as a crown. The hat can be read either “Burger King,” or “Working My Way Out,” depending upon which way your light shines.

There are students holding hands and taking up too much of the trail. Old lovers, too.

There is a girl with an Irish Wolfhound pup, a canine that does not yet know that it will soon be larger than life. I wonder whether the girl has calculated the tonnage of kibbles she’s bound to buy.

There is a drug deal happening somewhere between George’s and Center street, and both pusher and puller eye me as if I’m a bicycle NARC. I nod my hello to them.

There are students drinking to drunk on the bar patios. Again. I wonder whether their mothers miss them, too.

This bike trail–it is the backbone of my town, and it’s made up of the better and worse parts of “us.” I’m sure there are poems and stories out there for the taking, but sometimes I suppose it’s better to observe than take.

At least that’s the way I see it.

Thanks for your patience with me during this blog hiatus. I plan to work out some words fairly regularly here going forward (including words on the continuing adoption ethics series). But for now, let me ask you: are you taking the time this summer to chase a few butterflies?

(And no, that is not a rhetorical question.)

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  • kevin still


    • sethhaines

      Kiki Malone, I need to see you one day soon.

  • I am receiving updates in my inbox and thought I’d come over and say I’m happy to open this one. All these questions you are living? They tickle up and down my spine every day too. I guess we all have to ride out our own answers. And maybe it’s as simple as chasing a butterfly now and then. I need that. My soul sure does.

    • sethhaines

      “Ride out our own answers.” Yes. I like this.

      Thing is, I think (and I wonder what you think) that there are some very real answers to the cyber-busy problem we have. I want to find all of *those* answers and store ’em up like found pennies.

      • It’s tricksy. The ones who seem to achieve balance the best schedule things–these are the effective and efficient ones. This is a good way but this does not feed my soul. Knowing the difference between “lack of discipline” and “leaving room for the Spirit”…well, I don’t claim to. I am no longer a young woman. And so I move to different voices. But I am curious. What “very real answers” are you entertaining?

        • sethhaines

          Step back. Stop for a season. Sabbath. Look and see if your engagements achieve your ultimate end and if not, quit. Step back more. Stop for another season. Sabbath more. Smell the summer air and listen to the katydids. Meet your neighbor and see what they think about gospel. Toe in… toe in… maybe step back again.

          Repeat until we’ve culled it back to the very essence of what we’re supposed to be doing in this place.

  • Janelle

    Their mothers miss them. Bouncing or drinking. Trust me.

    • sethhaines

      Yeah… It’s that way. Isn’t it?

  • Debbie

    Glad you are back! You may not realize it but your words have encouraged me greatly!

    • sethhaines

      Thanks, Debbie. Glad the words resonated. (And it’s nice to be back.)

  • Fiona


    • sethhaines

      Thanks, Fiona. Peace to you.

  • I have not only chased very real butterflies – in the most recent six weeks – I have chased alligators (very real) and rainbows (vapory real). And this morning a coyote chased something into my yard, but I still haven’t figured that one out.

    Once you step out of the o b l i g a t i o n or writing, the interweb’s siren call isn’t quite as alluring. (But ALWAYS happy to read your words; you string them together nicely.)

    • sethhaines

      Robin… alligators?!? What?!? You know you have to give more, right?

  • Diane Bailey

    I’ve slowed down on writing a little, and decided to pick up a little sewing again. French Handsewing to be exact. Though there are no butterflies unless I create them, I can sit on the porch and breath in the fragrance of freshly cut grass, and listen to the crickets singing for rain…(inhaling, exhaling…)

  • pastordt

    Me, too, Seth. Me, too. Not writing much, on vacation with my husband and a couple of our kids. . . just looking around, enjoying the island breezes, doing some light reading, taking long, early morning walks. Also, avoiding the memoir-ish kind of work I need (and some days want) to be doing during these weeks away. Feelin’ the need for some breathing room. . . hope you’ve enjoyed yours.

    • sethhaines

      I’m glad for you DT. I hope you find some peace.

  • I’m always glad to find your words, and Amber’s too, even though I wish a slower pace for us all. We’ve lived back near home three summers now, but this is the first I’ve really soaked it in deeply, and I find I’m remembering all kinds of stories and places from childhood. And I find I want to tell them to my daughters and write them out longhand and hardly put a word of it on the internet. I never considered myself a writer or journal-keeper (more artist who sometimes writes) but blogging publicly has led me to write more privately. It’s a funny turn in the trail here, one that I’m enjoying.

    • sethhaines

      Thank you, Annie. Keep soaking it in. I will be this summer.