I have never met a man who knew the woods like the back of his hand as well as my father. “See this tree here? I remember riding my bike by it when I was just a lil’ kid,” he said. The woods to my father is what your favorite childhood hub is to you: it is the place where you sat and wondered, where you escaped when you knew you were in a little trouble, and where your gossip from the school yard was told. “You’re crazy dad,” I said, “There’s no way you could remember that exact tree from nearly 40 years ago.”
But it was true. I followed him through the woods and over the exposed February leaves that crackled under my feet and around the fallen trees and obtrusive branches to the trail that curved along the mountain valley that he used when he was a lad. He knows that woods better than the native deer or lingering mountain cat, embarking on every stone and memory that was tied with it.
“And this one dad?” I said jokingly, but he would forever respond with a revised version of tale about his dirt bikes or snowmobile rides that he did with my Uncle; the fond memories he holds close to keep the memory of my Uncle quite alive.
He would climb over the steep ridges and I would stand back, watching him climb over the land that he conquered many years ago. He would point into the valley where our town settled, watching the minis cure colors of cars pass the white and golden houses that reflected the sun many feet below, illuminating their colors to an extravagant color that did not ring true to the tone of the house at all. “There’s our house,” he pointed. I squinted and squirmed and longed to see. “How can you see it? I don’t see it at all.” The words trailed out of my mouth with a sense of urgency that rang true to my scurrying eyes and tip-toeing toes. “I see it.”
My father was glowing. After finding our house (which was quite difficult) and pointing to others down our street, he was ready to take us home. He walked through the trees taking us off of the ‘trail’ and through the slumbering trees, winding down rocky slopes and steep curves. “We are going to get lost,” I said with a chuckle, which I knew wasn’t true at all right after I said it. I somehow trusted him and his ‘forest-sense.’ My dad worked the trails and asked often if I was keeping up (I wasn’t, he is in better shape than I thought) and finally we would hit the willowing trail that was oh so familiar to him. We walked and shared the warmth of the hovering trees and reflecting sunlight, embracing the power and solitude of nature as the church bells sang once more as we left the forest.
When we made it home he would turn and share where we were in the East mountain, describing the moment where he pretended to hide in the slope of the hill to the ridge we overlooked to see the town where the deer scratch. He became one with the forest and only focused on the power of the woods that hugged him, and shared that power with me and the affect it placed upon his soul.
The woods did that to him. His heart was replenished and his mind would quiet. He wouldn’t say much but his content presence mirrored that of the whispering pines and echoing church bells in the valley, as if in sync; hailing high above the land. Letting the earth further shape and enhance the heart and mind as we both swayed around the fallen trees and over the rippling streams, following the trails embellished in earth’s mountains to find our way back home and to ourself.