She went into the woods to lose her mind and find her soul.
Photo credit ~ Michelle Thickett Flynn
I help him make a peanut butter sandwich. He brings me the heavy jar cradled with both hands, he’s tall for one year to go before reaching double digits in age. We don’t cut the sandwich in half, at some point of half famished he’ll eat it in one go, he puts it and a small bag of oatmeal cookies into a green canvas nap sack. He asks for treats for the dogs; three treats but he figures the two older dogs will turn back when the trail gets steep.
“They always do,” he said.
“Isn’t he kind of young to be going by himself?” Friends questioned when my youngest boy had his first little trek.
“Mom can I climb the mountain?” From the barn the back pasture drops away and then gradually begins to climb, the grass becoming lost in ferns as tall as a man. Just in case any of the horses decided they were a mountain goat we fenced off the back where the mountain’s foot makes the ground rise sharply. It was hard digging in rocky ground nearest the mountain and the barn to sink the fence posts, but the majority is lush grass in soil like butter where the posts sunk easily.
Acquiring the land was a dream come true and we’ve explored. My husband and I took both our boys, any of the willing dogs, and starting out with us but never finishing, an orange tabby cat I had for years and brought with me to my marriage. The cat was geriatric when last year I watched it follow my husband to do some work in the bottom field. That was the last of my old cat. I like to think he just laid down in the trees to die.
After climbing through the barbed wire fencing I say to my husband, “We really should put a gate back here.”
“Just another gate to be left open,” he says.
We weave our way around and over a tumble of large boulders dropped here by glaciers millions of years ago.
The boys have an easier time of it being small enough to get under the limbs of trees. But they have to work on climbing over the backs of the downed ones lying in tangles on top of one another.
Then it gets steep. We grab onto branches and trunks of trees using roots and rocks as foot holds. The ground is damp and soft with ancient beds of fallen leaves. The dogs work their way along finding deer trails, their tongues lolling and tails wagging, licking our faces as they’ve managed to climb above us.
I never worry about my boys. They’re young. Their cheeks are little rosy apples.
I tell my friends, “It’s like a rite of passage, lessons learned while climbing the mountain. He’s Huckelberry Finn on an adventure.”
“I heard this was up here.” We gather beside my husband. Three walls to a four foot square cement water cistern are embedded in the side of the mountain. At the bottom of the exposed wall is a pipe that’s obviously plugged. The cistern is full of water and a trickle flows over the top down the side coated in dark green moss.
My oldest boy grabs a long branch and begins poking into the black depths. “The bottom’s all soft and full of gunk. The whole thing isn’t very deep, maybe three feet.”
“Hey Dad do you think we can get this working if we dig it out?”
I help my little boy put on his nap sack. “See you Mom!” The screen door slams.
All three of the dogs fall in behind him. Two of them move a little stiffly but by the wag of their tails it seems they are going to give this little adventure their best shot.
I stand at the kitchen window. He goes through the barn and comes out the other side dragging a shovel.
Looks like work on the cistern is getting started today.
This past weekend I went back for a visit to the Kootenays. In Nelson on Saturday, I took my brother out for lunch.
Where do you want to go?
What do you want to want to eat?
And onion rings?
Jimmy is bowling this afternoon. I like watching him bowl. He knows when it’s his turn which may seem simple until one of his enthusiastic companions holding a bowling ball is leaping up and down in the way of Jimmy bowling his last ball.
My brother throws/rolls the ball like it’s a discus. It doesn’t matter if all three are gutter balls, or one pin falls, when he turns around his game face is a satisfied expression of getting the job done.
But today is too gorgeous to be inside a dim and noisy bowling alley. And I’ve got monkey mind. Thoughts are whirling; nothing too disturbing but it’s messing me up. I need to hit pause and catch my breath, organize myself. I drive with no destination until the end of Vernon Street. The road veers around a sharp rising mountain of rock, moss and trees, no sidewalk but a woman with a contented smile and partially closed eyes pushes a baby stroller up the hill. This is Nelson.
My first kiss was in the bushes up at Gyro Park. We sat on the bank with Nelson spread out below us. It was sloppy. I doubt the boy owned a tooth brush. Parking beside two vehicles I walk for a bit and find a solitary bench facing the yellow autumn sun. My back settles against the warm wood.
I’ve been reading about meditation. Meditation 15 Minutes To A Stress Free Life by Nathan Farrelly and The Zen Path Through Depression by Philip Martin. I sit and focus on the air filling my lungs, lifting my chest and then breathing out. It makes me yawn and stretch. Fall sunshine is soft against my closed eyes.
Thoughts form and slide by, like fish angling for my hook but a quote I’ve read helps: Thoughts will come but don’t invite them to stay for tea. So, I let them flow by, ignoring the urge to grab onto the merry go round and go for a spin. Nope. I’m going to sit here and let my head rest. And I do. For about 30 seconds.
I hear voices. Automatically my eyes open. An older couple, off to one side, their backs turned are discussing the plants and trees. They admire the varying shades of burnished orange and yellow foliage. In seconds I’m engrossed in one of my favorite pass-times of people watching. After Nicholas died I watched children with an intensity (Oh if wishes came true!) that Ian was unnerved by it and said a person might misconstrue the desperate and hungry look in my eyes.
See how my mind wanders?
I stand up, done with meditating. But I’m better. Really. That few seconds of putting on the brakes and resting my head worked. And it will come easier as I practice. Some of my best creative impulses come after one of these sessions. I absolutely know what I’m now doing. I begin to drive along the north shore beside the Kootenay Lake.
In 1970 my family lived in a trailer park on the lower six mile road. Dad planted a willow tree in our front yard. The trailer eventually melted and has been long gone. Last year I saw that the tree is also gone. My sister and I would swing from its long ropey branches. It hurt more to see the tree gone than the trailer. Who cuts down a tree?
I was nine years old and for seven years rode my bicycle along our north shore back road over the bridges covering the two creeks and to the beach to play in the sand and swim in the icy Kootenay Lake. It’s been 30 plus years since I went to the beach, but my hands turn the wheels onto the leaf covered dirt road, past an entrance that isn’t marked. Thank God because this beach is a secret gem.