First posted on 05-03-2013
I got to spend some time with an old friend not long ago. Many years had sailed between visits, brought on by a lack of time, other priorities, whatever the reason.
The beginning of our conversation was tenuous. Some of the old familiarity had been erased with the passing of time, and finding our path was a struggle at first. Nothing seemed quite the same as I had remembered. Blurred and dusty old memories gained sharper focus as the conversation went on, and soon the path became clearer.
The general direction of our little talk felt right, so we continued on with more vigor and less apprehension than we had experienced at the beginning of our walk.
We stopped for a moment to recall some good times shared together. I recalled a chilly January when I sought shelter under some pines during a sleeting afternoon. The warmth of those trees’ embrace and the soft bed of pine needles where I crouched were still with me. Now the trees had grown tall and strong, unrecognizable at first glance. The limbs where I stooped and crawled, I could now walk under with ease. I stepped back, like a father sizing up his growing children, and the focus drew sharper once more.
I learned about an ice storm that had taken down many trees which had likely been saplings on my last visit. The forest floor now littered with the graying bones of these once magnificent beasts. A tornado had touched down and took more trees. Yet, the forest had already replenished itself in a rebirth of survival.
I knew my favorite spot in our journey lie just ahead, that’s how familiar our conversation had become. I could not repress the smile curving my face as we approached. Pausing to look over the edge of a hill into the draw below, I looked for the thick, old oak I had used to mark this spot. This is where I saw a brown bear scurry through the woods, dogs on its heals, and where a deer passed along the far ridge, nearly concealed behind brush. I had heard her before I saw her, and she had no doubt smelled me even before that.
The old oak had passed. A lightning strike by the looks of it. Not much more than a hollowed figure with limbs that bore no leaves. A sadness paled the joy I felt at tall pines and the forest’s ability to rise above adversity. But this was just one more bit of adversity that would soon pass into history as the woods claimed the ground once more. Already, animals were living in the hollow. Perhaps on my next visit, the forest would reclaim all of this tree.
As we climbed higher up the mountain, the contrast between what had passed and what had taken its place was more apparent. While the woods had changed in one aspect, they had remained precisely the same in another.
Reaching the summit, I recalled a day long ago when I saw deer trails full of sign in most every direction, and fox squirrels as big as cats. That was the day before deer season that year. Somewhere through the night, I caught the flu and ended up running a fever so high, I sang Willie Nelson’s Red-Headed Stranger album in my delirium. Even then, all I could think about was how I was going to drag myself up that mountain. Which I didn’t do as cooler heads than mine prevailed.
The view from the top was magnificent. That had not changed one bit. I lingered there as long as I could, loathe to bid my friend farewell. We finally did and, like old friends often do, we promised not to let so much time drift by between visits.
As I descended the mountain, I thought of an old saying from a philosopher named Heraclitus. He said that “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
I think that applies to woods and mountains as well.
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