It was a walk in the woods behind our house with my youngest grandson that brought on the latest bout of nostalgia. He and I have not walked in this particular area much together so it was like seeing it with new eyes. When we first moved to this piece of ground, 20 plus years ago now, I walked it often by myself and with my kids. Specifically, it’s the area south of the house where our kids often played, and the oldest of the grandkids spent a good bit of time too. The area to the east has drawn our attention, as well as our footfalls, more often lately and I’d almost forgotten what those few scant acres of woods are like. As I looked up at the older maple and pine it was surprising, though it shouldn’t have been, how much they’ve grown in the intervening years. What were saplings are now full-fledged trees and my favorites, the old gnarly trees with lots of character are showing their age but standing stalwart as the day I first laid eyes on them. Winds of the past few months have brought some branches and a couple entire trees down but only smaller ones. Is there a lesson there?
Call me crazy if you wish, but these are trees I deemed needing to be “saved” when we built our house here just because I enjoyed looking at them, watching birds and squirrels flit from branch to branch in summer, the beautiful glow they cast when autumn came and the leaves showed their true color and how lovely they are draped in winter snow. They may have not looked one bit beautiful to anyone else but me then or now, but beauty, as is said, is in the eye of the beholder. And I’ve long held that the oldest, crippled looking but still surviving, gnarly-knobbed trees are the most interesting. I don’t measure in cords or board feet, just in what I strikes me as fitting. But here it was, this piece of ground with well-loved trees. I’d not ventured deeply amongst them in quite a while and it brought on a sense of guilt. It was as if I’d neglected them and the memories they hold in their branches. Long ago voices echo along the paths beneath them. Shadows of laughter ring out amidst those gnarled limbs. The whisper of a dozen younger selves surrounds me as we stare up, even as the one beside me whispers. Remarking on this tree: “grandma, it’s so tall”, or that critter: “I think there was a squirrel in the branches”, or that hillock: “is it natural or did you create it with a bulldozer”, and at the large pock-marked, barkless basswood: “why is it still standing, the woodpeckers have filled it with so many holes?” It makes me smile. That very question, and more, in similar voice even, resounds within my heart as a distant memory brought close once more.
I feel sad. But only for a moment. It is hard to be sad with this one at my side. He can be happiness personified. But I realize I’ve wasted time, precious time that will never come back. Thus I vow then and there that we will do this very thing more often. That I will do this very thing more often. I’ll look up. I’ll look back. And I might cry just a little bit for what was and for what might have been… but I’ll smile more because this place, whether I am alone or in company with someone I love, is good.
“Count your blessings, name them one by one…” Happy Thanksgiving all.