In the last of my posts about cancer on this blog two years ago, I wrote about a hill behind my house that my wife and I climb every morning we can. It was my way of saying that the best way to live with the sense of mortality that cancer patients know well is to seek and savor the small moments that each day can bring.
I have experienced many such small moments since. Big moments, too. My wife retired. Our son married. Our daughter graduated from college. These joyful events followed the death of my father in January 2017. A big year.
Which is what brings me to Papa's Rock and a decision to start blogging again. This time I'm going to write about climbing the same hill, but from a different side. I want to write about the woods and the meaning we can find there -- by connecting with something more lasting and profound than the texts and selfies and fast food and busyness with which we fill our days.
You could say my wife and I climb the hill through its front door: from the road and up an old driveway that leads to a field with a terrific view.
For the purposes of this blog, every so often you and I will climb the hill through its back door: by walking along the stone wall that leads from our house into the woods and down into the hollow until we cross the creek. Turn right with me between the two rounded boulders and up through the trees and we’ll see it on this side of the sap lines: Papa’s Rock.
Papa's Rock comes complete with footrest.
My father was a hunter who loved the woods. In his last wishes, he asked family members to spread his ashes in places that would make his spirit soar. Last August I filled a jar with a portion of his remains and climbed the hill, looking for one of those places. I found it at Papa’s Rock, about two-thirds of the way up: a perfect perch to sit, look and listen.
Last Saturday I returned for the first time since and tried to experience the spot as my father would have. I listened as the cold wind brushed the trees and watched as it lifted dead leaves from the forest floor only to dash their hopes by dropping them again.
On the ground to my right I noticed a little heap of fresh deer droppings. To my left lay scattered wood chips, the work of a woodpecker that had hammered deep into the trunk of a limbless ash. Down the hill, patches of snow and ice and the gurgle of water in the creek, running away from winter.
Signs of life, signs of death, signs of renewal. We’ll see what the next visit brings.
The view from Papa's Rock.
My dad and mom, in a painting made by a great college friend, Steve Mairella, from a favorite photograph.