Memories in Time "A Reflecting Journey"
I’d been here before, in an almost-forgotten memory. My feet had walked this same trail as a child with my father. We had traveled these paths in the mountains around home as a family, where I grew to love hiking the rugged Appalachian Mountains. Seeing its beauty was as timeless as those carefree childhood days of my youth.
Dad always tried to get us to slow down enough to see the beauty of walking on a trail or hearing the song of a wild bird in the early morning that was just happy to begin a new day. To really feel the coolness of a gentle breeze and to appreciate the beautiful springtime wildflowers that were blooming everywhere. Lady slippers and wild trilliums that bloomed brilliant whites and, as they aged, turned a beautiful pink. Dogwoods, redbuds, dutchman’s britches, fire pinks, bloodroot and many others, deep velvet reds, pinks, yellows, whites and violets grew against the backdrop of the thick, green undergrowth that blanketed the forest floor.
The damp trail was littered with moss-covered rocks, as was the beautiful old growth forest that lined the trails. Growing tall were oak, maple, birch, sweet and black gum trees along with many other varieties that made up the hardwood forests of East Tennessee.
As a boy, we never saw these things as dad did. We wanted to run ahead as though we were the first explorers to ever see this land or forest before. Our imaginations running as wild as the young deer and animals that called this place home. We felt as free as the many birds that nested in the tall trees or the bald eagles and red-tail hawks that soared in the cloudless sky, rising on the winds, higher and higher until they were just distant specks.
Now those days were gone.
No longer a child but an old man, my desire was to walk this trail again. Dad was gone now and I missed him as I stepped onto this familiar path that I had run up before. This trip was going to be slower, each step painful, more deliberate and more planned than ever before. This trip would probably be my last; time had slowed my footsteps enough to allow me to really see the beauty of this moment in time.
It was a beautiful spring day with a chill in the morning air. The forest and surrounding undergrowth was covered with dew from the night before. It glistened in the warm, early morning sunlight that streamed through the forest canopy above.
As I took each slow step, I remembered dad saying, “slow down so you can see the real beauty that surrounds you.”
"Life is everywhere," he had told us, although we never really heard him. But now his words echoed in my mind and I was seeing through his eyes. My senses were awakened as though they had been in deep slumber.
The trail was a little muddy from the spring rains, but my footsteps were sure and steady from years of walking in these woods during my lifetime. As I paused for a moment, to my left the mountain rose slowly toward the morning sky. To my right, it descended into a deep hollow with the sound of a small mountain stream as it flowed from higher in the mountains. Off in the distance I heard the thumping of a ruffed grouse as he beat his wings trying to attract a mate. Squirrels were chattering and birds singing. I suddenly felt so alive and at peace in this rugged place.
Looking down, someone had stepped on a moss-covered rock and in their haste, ripped the moss loose by its roots. I bent over and picked up the piece, about the size of my hand, turning it over and over. It was beautiful, deep dark green and felt like velvet. It was so soft and still alive with life. Tiny orange bugs were crawling on it; perhaps they lived in its roots. I didn’t know but here is life I would never have noticed as a boy, running through the forest. Now as an old man, all life was precious, the creator giving each living thing a place and purpose I now saw and understood. I leaned over and placed the moss back in its place on the rock, turned it slightly ´til it fit like a piece in a jigsaw puzzle. It would live and reattach itself if left alone and given a chance.
As I continued up the trail and around a bend I noticed a large tree with a deep scar in its side - a wound inflicted by nature. A dark, black scar, caused as a bolt of lightning fell from the sky several years earlier. It had ripped the bark off and splintered the tree, but it had survived as do all living things, overcoming the scars and wounds of life that are inflicted over the years.
Continuing slowly, the trail started slightly downward. The creek that was on my right, now crossed the trail directly ahead and would be on the left side on the remainder of the trip. Approaching the creek, I decided to sit and rest a few minutes. A medium-sized boulder at the edge of the creek offered a good seat, so I sat down and removed my shoes and socks. I gently lowered my feet into the stream, letting them soak in the cool water.
Sitting comfortably, my mind drifted to another time, remembering my early days at this same place in bygone years. Suddenly as if awakened from some distant Memory in Time, my focus returned to the creek which at this point was about six or seven feet wide. The water was crystal clear with its brown, sandy bottom and, less than a foot deep, it flowed around numerous moss-covered rocks scattered as though placed by some unseen hand.
Looking up the creek about twenty feet or so, a small waterfall flowed over some rocks into a shallow pool. The sound was mesmerizing and peaceful. Wild rhododendron grew on the creek banks, their branches spilling into the water, offering shade and cover to the stream and the creatures living there.
At first glance it seemed devoid of life but as I sat quietly I noticed something moving in the water about ten feet away. A small rainbow trout swam from under a moss-covered rock, probably looking for a nymph or other small bug to fall into the water for a small meal. Below the trout, in another small pool, a black salamander with yellow spots slowly crawled along the sandy bottom of the stream. Closer to me a crawfish wandered around his preferred pool of water. Each in their own little world and purpose.
On a small sandbar to my right, were some small tracks - probably a mink from the night before searching for food. That reminded me. I took a peanut butter sandwich and bottle of water from the small backpack I used when hiking and enjoyed a snack of my own, tossing small pieces of bread into the quiet pools, sharing my lunch with these watery creatures.
Sitting here with the sun streaming through the trees onto my back felt good and soothed my old bones. I thought about the day’s events and the decision to come into the mountains alone. I wasn’t being anti-social. I just wanted to be alone with my thoughts and take this particular trip without any distractions. I was now able to see what dad had tried so patiently to show me and feel what he undoubtedly had felt.
At sixty years old, life can pass us by so quickly; we can miss seeing a blessing by not realizing it´s right there in front of us. I had lived long enough to realize this.
I’d been sitting here about forty-five minutes and it was time to get going. After putting my socks and shoes back on, I rose to continue my journey, stepping on rocks to cross to the other side, keeping my balance and feet dry in the process.
I had begun this hike just after daylight and it was now around eleven a.m. - but it was only a short distance to the lookout I was going to. I was in no hurry.
As I made my way farther up the trail and around a turn to the right, a mother deer and her fawn were just ahead in the trail. Spring time is a time of renewal, as young are born in the animal kingdom to replace the ones that didn’t make it through the cold winter.
I stopped in my tracks and reflected on my own life - how as a child I walked this same trail with my father. I had walked it with my children and know they had walked it with theirs.
Now walking alone felt good. The cool breeze flowed from high on the mountain and the warm patches of sunlight filtered through the trees, shining a perfect spotlight on the beautiful creatures just ahead in the trail. This moment was pure perfection and forever ingrained in my memory. Being a part of this, I truly felt blessed and a part of something special.
As the deer and I stared at each other, she was beautiful with her new, deep red summer coat, as was the fawn in his spotted coat at her side. They provided the perfect picture of life. Especially with me approaching the winter of my days on this Earth, we stood there staring at each other. She was unafraid and didn’t raise her white tail in alarm; she simply nudged her baby and they disappeared like shadows into the thick forest. I was thankful for this simple moment, breathed a sigh, not of relief, but of contentment and continued on up the trail.
As I reached the mountaintop, the view of the valleys below was breathtaking. Though I’d seen it many times before, it was a picture of such grandeur it never got old, seeing God’s beauty on such a canvas as only he could paint. With the peaks of distant mountains rising in the distance and low clouds hanging on them, I felt at peace with myself and the creator.
Not even Rembrandt or Van Gogh could produce more beauty or paint a more beautiful picture. Slightly out of breath, I took a seat on an outcropping of rock. Looking over the edge was a cliff with a drop of about three hundred feet to the forest floor below.
Sitting there, with my mind engrossed in what I was seeing and feeling at this point, I suddenly realized I was thirsty. I reached into my backpack and retrieved a bottle of water. I was thankful for all God had given me and the blessings he’d bestowed on my life.
I felt tired from the hike and wanted to rest a bit and absorb everything before me. After resting about an hour, I rose up from the rocks remembering the people I loved. This suddenly gave me new strength, or perhaps it came from the presence of God - I’m not really sure. I knew I suddenly felt content and alive.
I edged closer to the cliff, looked over, and shuddered, thinking if a man fell here he would never survive. Realizing I needed to go home, with a final look at the valleys below I turned and headed back down the trail to the people I loved. I felt renewed and knew when I got home I could relax on the front porch in my favorite old rocking chair. It had been a good day.
Maybe, in the near future, I would try to climb this old mountain again.