Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Walking in the woods today, I lost my bearings

* As has become habit, I wrote this ages ago and left it to languish in my drafts folder. The onset of a new year inspired me to set it free. 

Walking in the woods today, I lost my bearings as I sometimes do when the wood floor is littered with a carpet of dry leaves. Nothing looked familiar. Was I too far North or too far South to find the main trail that led back down the ridge to my parents' cabin?

I momentarily recognized nothing. I had no sense of direction other than down.

Just when I started to feel irritated with myself-- I grew up in these woods, so how could I be lost, not to mention I don't much like bushwhacking because it triggers my claustrophobia-- I spotted a large rock propped up against a tree. It had to have been put there by a human--most likely, surely, my father.

Marking his way through the woods, stopping to pile up stones in a crude sculpture, a cairn, as well as pick up sticks off the trail, was one of my father's favorite ways to occupy his time. The trees were his friends. The woods were his home. If he could have, he would have tidied up the entire 80 acres, to the point of there being no stray branch or twig out of place. A meticulously kept domicile.

A few yards later, I spotted another cairn. This one was carefully stacked, a flat gray rock on the bottom, another less symmetrical rock on top of that, then another. My irritation subsided. "He's still guiding me," I thought. "Even though he's not here, my father is telling me which way to go and it will always be so."

My father is always in the woods for me. Vermont was his home, his dwelling place, his birthplace, his resting place. He felt the trees around him. He appreciated their permanence, perhaps in contrast with the tragic impermanence of his father, who died when Dad was only 5. He grew up with the trees, whose roots went just as deep into Vermont soil as his own. He learned community from the trees who never shun their neighbors, each swaying to the same breeze, each standing at the ready to hold the other up for as long as possible should one grow weary of standing up straight and simply let go.

"I've got you," the trees say without speaking.

"I've got you," my dad's many stone piles say to me