Basic Instincts: A Field of Dreams and Bramble Bushes

By Michael Willard

It’s a diverse life to which I have stumbled, often guided by serendipity where the grass was never greener nor dotted with candy canes, but was as different as colors in a kaleidoscope.

This is the thought that monopolizes my mind on a lazy afternoon with the sun peeking through pastel-flavored clouds, giving rise to both reflection and nostalgia in a slightly off-key duet.

I have been through the crucible many times.

I have travelled the continents, wondering most often what was beyond the next bend, whether it was romance or riots, profit or loss, mountains or molehills.

It goes without saying I have made money, and I have lost money. I have repeated that cycle ad nauseam, but frankly, I was just as happy backing doomed noble causes as being high-flying, first-class, hotel suite flush.

It has been, just perhaps, what folk-rock balladeer James Taylor was thinking when he wrote a song about “I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain and sunny days I thought would never end.”

Fact is, they generally always end, but you still dance whether its rain, shine, tornado or tsunami.

Business triumphs, business heartaches, a couple domestic meltdowns with the blame falling on this restless spirit; and, of course, adventures that are the normal DNA of a writer/journalist/international entrepreneur/politico-hired gun.

But now, today, in the twilight of this path — a wide swath of both mediocrity and, at times, soaring momentum and majesty — there seems an inescapable breakthrough in these yellow leaf years.

It surprises even me, mostly me.

This feeling is not accompanied by any grand Tchaikovsky1812 Victory Overture. It is an obscure lullaby, an unfathomable feeling absent the ego and chest-pounding of having done that and got the merit badge.

All this is not significantly relevant. It is, as the cliche’ goes, lacking a “there, there”.

There is no tinsel nor trapping. It’s more simple satisfaction, though sometimes displayed with the poker face of a street mime; or, at times, the smiling continence of a door-to-door Bible salesman.

In other words, I am most happy in this zen state, only occasionally ruffled by calamitous political happenings or a Saturday in which my Florida Gators or my West Virginia Mountaineers take a tumble.

This is not to say other slices of life have never been star-studded.

They certainly have been, and I have been fortunate, as opposed to blessed which irritates my secular being and beliefs. I have four outstanding daughters and a son and four grandsons and a granddaughter.

I also have a Ukrainian wife who is firmly on terra firma — the grounded one in this equation — but who believes in the dreamer, This all represent cloudless moments of proof positive.

On any given day, I awake and converse with talented innovators in places as far-flung as Bangladesh, Ghana, and South Africa for USAID. I game-plan with the “Love Doctor,” a relationship expert, from Las Vegas each week.

On weekends, I palaver with a retired FBI agent in Birmingham, Al. about his latest serial killer novel, a fellow who has more Faulkner in him than O’Henry, but can spin a spine-tingling yarn that keeps you turning pages.

Then, there is the call with a socialist candidate for President in Maryland who realizes his candidacy is a bridge too far, but he has ideas and intellect to offer to the dialogue.

I’m your basic capitalist with a soft spot but he’s the real socialist deal and wants to make a difference. We — my wife Olga and I — want to help him cut through the clutter as best we can.

We returned to the United States after spending a third of my working life in Moscow, Kyiv, and Istanbul. The retreat was after two revolutions in Ukraine which we supported. It was time to come in from the cold.

Orlando, from where I write, is more serene than the placid retention ponds that populate the gated community, and where we do battle occasionally with the Home Owners’ Association over ridiculous rules.

I left “The City Beautiful” pre-Disney when I was 21 for adventure. By and large, I found it from El Salvador to Sarajevo and from Moscow to Minsk and Managua to Memphis.

My heart, though, is in Kyiv where we won a revolution and many died, and also on the Turkish coast where we have a summer home, and where I began and finished a half dozen novels.

It is dark now outside my window. The armadillos prowl. Deer munch away on Olga’s flowers in the wee hours. In the inky blackness, I still can see fields of dreams. It’s a siren call.

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Willard on Ukrainian Steppes.

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