The trail wasn’t long. It wasn’t long at all. It was just as I remembered it, with only a few minor changes. At first the trail appeared wider than I recalled, then I realized it was. It was definitely wider. Someone had been on that trail as early as the very day I was walking on it and had trimmed some of the smaller brush away. I saw the clean cuts at the tips of the remaining branches. The cuts were bright white and when I say branches, I mean to say something more along the lines of thin underbrush. The same underbrush I described earlier on in this story.
I also saw small scuffs on the floor of the trail. They were from boots – I was almost certain of that. Someone had been on the trail and taken some time to carefully cut away just enough underbrush to make passage possible. I could tell they took their time too, because I was quite used to trimming brush by this point on the old man’s property and trust me when I say this, the old man didn’t like losing his privacy. He taught me time and time again how to trim just enough to keep a neat appearance, but not so much to alter the landscape. He impressed that upon me more times than I could recall. And it appeared that the same technique had been used on the very trail I was standing on.
As I continued to walk, I continued to admire the precise clearing job of whomever did the work. Mind you, I was only fourteen, but my skills had been honed through the years. I knew what something was when I saw it.
As I said, the trail wasn’t long, so when I soon reached the end of it at the entrance of the pond’s opening, I wasn’t surprised. What I was surprised at was what I saw. And what I saw made the blood rush from my face.
The entire perimeter of the pond had been cleared of the small saplings that had grown so thickly through the years. There was nothing from the water’s edge until at least five feet from it. It was spotless and where the water met the land there was a defined separation. My vocabulary doesn’t hold the words to describe what I saw. I’m not so much trying to tell you about what was there that day, I think what I’m trying to tell you is how it changed from so many years prior. And since it’s only in my mind, I’m not sure you’ll ever truly know. But let me attempt to explain this as clearly as possible – the mud was no longer there. The small trees and underbrush that had crowded the pond had disappeared. Almost as if I had never seen them at all. The larger trees above the entire area formed such a beautiful canopy – much more beautiful than the last time I had seen them. And the canopy of that day let much wider rays of sun shine through. That sun shone through those thin twigs and their golden leaves reflected off that pond as if in a mirror.
Now listen. I want to tell you this because it’s important here. I want to tell you that I’m not a god fearing man. I don’t believe in god so I’m not sure this is going to make any sense to you. And that’s why it’s going to be kind of difficult to explain. But I’m going to try. As I stood there that day at the edge of the pond, admiring those warm rays of sun shine through those trees, I couldn’t help but imagine them being cast by angels. I didn’t know why either, but in my mind, it was the only thing that made sense. I stood there with such an overwhelming feeling of peace that to me, angels could be the only thing on heaven or earth that would allow something like that. I know, it makes no sense and I feel embarrassed writing about it now, but it’s something I needed to get off my chest.
Let’s get back to what I saw at the pond that day.
The brush further back in the woods had disappeared. Everything that had been, I would say, less than three inches thick at their base had been removed. Again, it was just no longer there, as if it had never been. And large boulders were in plain sight from the pond now. Along with the lichen and moss that lay across those stones. So as you walked around that pond, instead of fighting your way though a dense forest of tiny trees, you could see that you were, in fact, in a small valley surrounded by cliff like rocks and even larger trees than ever before.
And something had been done to the rear area of the pond – the area that was farthest from the trail head and closest to the forest. Something had been done to set that area apart from the rest of what I saw that day. It had been widened slightly more than everything else and its floor had been leveled.
This is the area of the pond that curved the sharpest and is what I can only describe as its end. It was the darkest area too. An area that had behind it dense underbrush that hadn’t been removed. Brush so dense that it reminded me of tightly knit bamboo.
As I stood there that day, just gazing around with probably the most ridiculous look on my face, I forgot all about the old man’s warning. I completely forgot about it because if I had run from that spot that very moment, I think I would have been satisfied. I knew there was something strange about that pond. I knew it to my core and now I had the visual confirmation I needed to allow my mind to wander for the rest of my life. I didn’t need more than that. I didn’t need an explanation. Like so many of us experience when we have a gut feeling about something, all I needed that day was confirmation that there was something magical back in those woods. Not an explanation, just a mere confirmation.
But I didn’t run away. I began to circle the edge of the pond, and look toward its end. And as I did this, I noticed a small bench. A bench that seemed to have been carved from stone. I was too far away to see exactly what type of stone, and I was slightly blinded from the sun reflecting off the pond, but from our location in the country, I was betting on something like granite or marble or something like that. It’s just what came to mind as I looked past the sun rays over at that bench.
I also noticed something else on the bench that day. Something that made me freeze with apprehension the moment I realized what it was. It didn’t look threatening at all, but by virtue of its presence, I was startled. As I looked over towards the bench that day, through those beams of light and over the reflection of the pond, I saw something resting on the stone. It was quite small relative to its surroundings and fairly unnoticeable if one was only to give the area a quick glance. It blended well with its background, so that may be the reason I passed it by the first time. It actually looked like a large crumpled brown paper bag. Or even a slumped sack of some sort.
And I wasn’t even sure I was certain what it was. So I walked towards it, and as I did, the water in the end of the pond became so much more transparent. The sun had become blocked and the crispness of the day let itself be known. It was like anything that had impaired my sight earlier had been filtered. I could finally see.
I could finally see the old man sitting on the edge of the stone bench. All alone. All alone and muttering something to himself.