Robert Robinson

Man is like to vanity:

 his days are as a shadow

 that passeth away.—Psa. 144.4

I wake and lay watching weak morning light grow strong against the window shade. Light bands inch across the carpet, forming shadowy patterns that transport me to a long-ago morning on my grandfather’s farm in Michigan. I half expect to smell coffee, beacon, and potato cakes wafting from his kitchen. I enjoy the memory.

Shadows are a time machine for me, turning the strange into the once familiar, bringing to mind the people, places, and things of my youth. In the waning light of summer, soft fall colors mix with flickering shadows of dry, rustling leaves and carry me to a time of crisp autumn apples, peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and Notre Dame Football on the radio. It’s a carefree place. It’s third “n” eight, and warm, delicious aromas drift through the house from the kitchen where my mother is cooking Virginia ham, biscuits, and redeye gravy. Smoke from my father’s cigarette is layered to the ceiling in the living room. The newspaper whispers as he hands me the funnies.

Sometimes the way light plays in the alpine summer haze takes me back to the hills of my great-aunt’s farm and the smells of fresh cut hay and roses, smells I no longer smell after years of sucking welding smoke dulled my senses. Maybe that’s why shadow and light trigger memories now.

Shadows often take me to Saturday—not a specific Saturday, just Saturday. Saturdays were happy days in my youth. There were mornings spent watching cartoons and long afternoons spent roaming field and wood, exploring old barns where I climbed to the lofts and fought epic sea battles. There were hills to climb, where I lay in tall grass with my dog, Sheba, and watched faces form in the clouds. Saturdays were good.

Alone in the mountains, the strobe effect of flickering lightshows in the cool shade of aspen and pine tricks my mind. I suppose I’m more susceptible to the phenomenon up there, where I’m relaxed, and worries of the present have been left on the flats. Suddenly I’m in great-grandmother’s living room in Indiana, drinking a root-beer float, watching As The World Turns. I don’t find that strange. I enjoy it when memories flood in to overwhelm the present. Maybe it’s because I find the present strange.

Thirty years ago, strange circumstances led me to a strange place, but the once strange now seems familiar. What I now find strange is the people and places I’m transported back to by shadow and light no longer exist, and it’s hard to believe they ever did. Yet, those places seem more real than the stranger in the mirror.

There’s a BBC sitcom I like to watch. At the end of the show, the credits roll across a dining room table mottled in light and shadow. Long shadows stretch across the soft-beige wall and warm brown table, forming patterns that remind me of home. It’s a wonderment, as I’ve never been to England, never sat at a table set in the manner of English aristocracy. Still, it feels comforting and homey. I get the same feelings watching shadows of windblown tree branches dance on a wall—safety, comfort, home.


Time moves slow now that I’ve retired. Just as it moved slow when I was a child waiting to grow up. I have time to notice shadows now, and they take me to when I had time. After adulthood, time raced along unchecked. Rapid-fire events punctuated by making a living, forming and screwing up relationships, and fighting various demons for possession of my soul made time short. Now those struggles are nearly over, and time is long again. I’m able to take my time fishing, time that seemed compressed a few years ago. It doesn’t bother me to sit on a log and watch trout rise and not cast to them. They’ll be there when I’m ready. And if I don’t cast, that’s okay, too. It doesn’t bother me to wait for the mayfly sitting on my knee to dry its wings, or to spend an hour watching a dipper dive for nymphs.

The common denominator then is time. We don’t know how much we have. And I don’t know what I’d do with the time if I knew the hour of my death. Would I spend the time doing good, or would I let the rough edge drag and go fishing? When we think we don’t have time, we’re right. We don’t have time to do some things, but we don’t have time not to do others.


The trail winds through a small stand of aspen ahead. It’s a favorite spot. In the cool shade, shadow and light shimmer, blessing me with memories of a time and place before life’s pain, sin, and guilt. Beneath the trembling quakies, I sit and think about what was and what could have been. I wonder what I’d change if I could go back and if the changes would make any difference. If I could go back and change all the “what ifs,” perhaps I’d be left with nothing to “what if” about. Maybe I’m locked in on some predetermined path and never had a free-will choice in the first place—maybe it was a set up.

Under the quakies, I sit in lush grass where silver-dollar shadows dance and carry me to a time of no worries, a time before heart attacks and doctor bills, a time when my only concern was getting caught licking the butter. Memories flirt with changing light till I’m not sure they’re real, of real places, of real people. Maybe life is a trembling shadow, a figment of God’s imagination as intangible as the shadows that take me to those places of my youth, places peopled by those once loved, places that flicker with the shadows, staying just out of reach.

© Robert Robinson 2016 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Robinson and <> with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.




20 thoughts on “SHADOWS

  1. What a great post, Rob. I do think “getting on” in life years does have that particular advantage of being easy, not worrying whether the fish will bite or not, letting time pass by with ease, not caring who wil say what about what we do or don’t do…ah if only it could last as long as the part of life that was filled with stress and distress with no time for ” drawn-out fishing” 🙂

  2. Beautifully rendered, poignant, and proof that still waters run deep. This is a piece to be read and left to melt in one’s mouth like warm butter, then revisited for another taste. There are so many layers here, Rob.

    • Thanks, Lisa. I hope it doesn’t turn to slush. 🙂
      I glad you liked it. I’ve wanted to explore this thing with shadows for years. And now I’ve done it. 🙂

  3. Great. Now I want potato pancakes and a peanut butter banana sandwich. But really, you’ve outdone yourself with the imagery here, my friend! WOW! You gave me goosebumps! AND, you made me want to know you and hang out in your places with you when I was a little kid, too, not to mention your beautiful country now. ❤

    • Potato cakes are the best. I haven’t had them since I was a kid.
      I hope you get through the storm in good shape. 🙂
      It’s already winter in the high country here. Perfect fall weather down on the flats, though.
      Thanks for the high praise. You’ll have to come out and I’ll give you the dollar tour. 🙂

  4. Hmmm, I think I will read this one again!!! It reflects so much of my thoughts, almost like you wrote this about me instead of you, well parts of it anyway….. Memories are a cherished gift left to us by time…..

  5. Hi Rob,
    This is my first visit but not the last to say the least. I love the thought of the shadows bringing you back in time. I think we all at our age visit the past easily and reminisce how good it all was.
    Your post has touched my heart and I am delighted to know that I am not alone in this vacuum of growing old.
    The potato pan cakes brought back instant memories of my mom standing at the stove and the smell wafting through the house and even out to the yard. She always had to make enough for the six of us herself and my dad. However when I think back I can scarcely remember her ever sitting down and eating her meal with us, except for Sunday. No matter the memories came through thanks to your lovely post.

  6. Oh, Rob, this made my heart ache at the same time sing. To build such a poignant piece based on the play of shadows and sunlight takes care, skill, a free-floating mind, and openness to the memories that choose to find you. It has a different structure than much of your work, but is no less wonderful. I copied and printed it so it will be readily at hand. I want to read and study both your thoughts and the way you wove them together. where will you submit this one?

  7. Those Saturdays do sound good.
    I don’t think my time will ever grow long again when my boy’s left the nest. The dishes, the cooking, exercise (forget the house) and the hours I need to think and write. Time evaporates like nothing even on days my guys leave me to myself.

    forming shadowy patterns
    Don’t know what you think of “forming shadow patterns”.

    • Shadow patterns sounds good, but shadowy makes me think of movement, which is what shadows do. My shadows do, anyway. If the reader doesn’t get it, he can bite me.
      I didn’t think time would get long again–until it did. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

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