Hidden treasures can be found along hidden pathways.
|It’s autumn. A time to kick through fallen leaves, walk on woodland paths and find new treasures waiting around each bend, and rediscovering those hidden places where the weary rest and forlorn memories thrive in the rustling leaves beneath our footfalls.
I returned to just such a place yesterday. The tree lined pathway I remembered from my childhood, curving and winding its way deeper into the pristine woods, still led to enchanting hideaways. While a gentle wind brushed the orange canopy above my head, I listened and then I heard the wood’s magical voice beckoning to me. Autumn scents drifted down upon me, while others rose from the leaf covered path as slivers of light pierced the dusky labyrinth. I walked in silence with a keen ear and with mounting expectations.
I hastened my gait; jumped over a shallow brook and then a memory from long ago overwhelmed my thoughts. I paused, sat down and leaned against a tree’s tangled roots. I closed my eyes, rested my chin on my knees and allowed a fond memory to flood my thoughts.
I watched as she removed her shoes and socks. She tossed them in my direction and said, “Hold these and keep them safe for me.”
She giggled when the fallen leaves tickled her toes. I questioned her wisdom, but held her hand as she waded into the stream. It was morning and yellow butterflies flitted about, seeking a spot to rest their wings. She giggled again when one lit on her freckled nose, nearly falling when she brushed it away. I caught her in my arms and as a gathering of dragonflies danced around her blonde curls, our lips meant and we kissed for the first time.
Overhead, in the tree’s highest limbs, a squirrel’s chattering roused me from my blissful moment, a brief interlude that gave me joy in my present condition. That condition, old age which caused me to rise slowly from my sitting position. I wondered if all old men were foolish and yearned to relive the past while sitting on damp leaves. Maybe they weren’t, but I was grateful that I still had this treasured memory.
I wipe my eyes on my shirtsleeve and retreated from the squirrel’s scolding. I had changed since the last time we had walked hand in hand down that pathway, but so had the woods. It seemed smaller than I remembered, but I still felt the magic, the serenity hadn’t disappeared.
I walked by a familiar willow tree, another curve in the path and I knew at once what I would find around the next bend. "Our secret place must be there", I said aloud.
I stepped a few paces off of the leafy path and there it was, still standing in a small meadow, surrounded by afternoon wildflowers, sheltered in the wood’s warmth, just as lofty as I remembered it. We had christened it, Our Oak Tree.
The tire swing I had made for her was, of course gone, but rope remnants stubbornly clung to the lowest branch. For a moment I thought I heard her laughter, but it was only the wind caressing our oak’s limbs. I closed my weary eyes again and for awhile, I watched her swinging … back and forth … back and forth.
She asked me for a push, wanting to go higher. I asked, “Why do you want to go higher?”
“Because I’m reaching for something,” she answered.
“What something?” I asked.
“I don’t know what something is,” she said.
Our love didn’t flourish and the swing never went up high again, but Our Oak Tree had survived and deep down, in its sprawling roots, forlorn memories had thrived, waiting to be rediscovered by a foolish old man, and giving him joy on an autumn day.
I touched the oak’s trunk, looked up into its towering strong branches and said, “Good-bye, old friend.”