Hiking the beaten path, I spotted a figure perched upon a mossy mound deep within the early autumn woods. I raised my binoculars and brought the figure into focus – an elderly man clothed in a forest green flannel jacket. Braided silver hair traced his spine like the mane of a well-groomed show horse.
Just a few meters beyond, at the base of a hill that sloped away from his perch, stood a grove of giant sugar maples towering over a nursery of ankle-high saplings. A shallow creek scarred the grove, allowing sunlight to bleed through the canopy.
He sat there, like an old snapper bathing in the wet exhalation of trees. Quiet. Still.
I stepped forward a few meters, careful not to disrupt, and leaned against a young birch. My eyes adjusted to the dim light of his surroundings, and my thoughts attuned to the sacred space he occupied. I wondered how the old man arrived there. What was his adventure? What had he seen? How did he struggle? Did he enjoy love?
He turned his head slightly, revealing half his face. His features were gentle, but worn. His eyes and mouth betrayed an unfulfilled longing. It’s too late now, it seemed. What should have been would never be. In the final days of his decay he arrived at this place where the creek splits the forest. He had no interest in venturing across the water because he could see it all from where he sat. The same stones and swamps, hills and hurdles, terrains that stretched out beyond, but not endless, only to circle back biting at his tail, bittersweet memories, fading shadows of the night.
He smiled at the forest. It was familiar to him like an old friend with whom he shared many winters. Many cycles of tender shoots bursting from the soil with all the potential of an ancient oak, of few dreams fulfilled and many unrealized, stories told of loss and hope, the promise of better days ahead.
He’d seen all of that, sometimes over again. The future promised nothing more than covers of overplayed songs.
His countenance also revealed a profound sublimity of mind as if he were in the presence of the Divine, yet his brow ached with regret as if he were gazing enviously at children laughing in anticipation outside a hospital window.
Perhaps he arrived someplace late in life or maybe just in time for the hereafter. He shook his head and smirked as he looked at the earth between his knees.