Right after my brother and I heard my father calling our names in the woods and he told me that it would be in our best interest to cut our hike short and go back to my father, he started walking towards the dirt parking lot. He navigated his way and walked right out of the woods. The strange thing, and what I still feel bad about, is that my brother thought I was right in back of him that day – he thought I was on his heels. When he got to the parking lot, he heard my father yell one last time. He must have gotten scared because right after he heard my father yell, my brother ran right towards him. He ran with all his speed – all so he wouldn’t get in any more trouble than he thought he was already in.
I remember telling you that at the age of nine, I was often anxious, probably more so than most nine year olds you’ve known. I don’t know why I was such an anxious nine year old either, but it may have had something to do with my proficiency for locating trouble. I was always good at that. And not only was I really good at finding it, I was really good at getting myself into it. The kind of trouble my parents punished me for. Probably because of this, I never followed my brother out of the woods that day.
There was an area of that old man’s land that I’m not sure too many people knew about. Now, I’m not going to say that the area I’m talking here about was secret or anything, but what I am going to say is that it was really difficult to find. It was hard to find, even in the dead of winter when there were no leaves on the trees. And because it was hard to find, it was like a magnet for little boys who may have been hiking and who may have stumbled across an area like that. Little boys who might have been on a hike with their older brother and little boys who got scared of their father who was yelling for them to come out of the woods.
The area I’m talking about here held a pond on the old man’s land – a pond that was surrounded by very thick underbrush and a ceiling of trees, even thicker than that thick part of the woods near the dirt parking lot I described earlier in this story. A pond that was surrounded by underbrush and trees so thick that even if you were flying over the pond, you wouldn’t have been able to see much of it. That’s how thick things were.
So here’s what happened. After my brother ran out of the woods, I stopped and thought about what I was going to do next. I knew that we were both going to be in trouble, so he might as well get the brunt of it. You know – the punishment – if there was one. And since he was the perfect person to occupy my father for the time being, I thought that I should probably wait things out until they cooled off. Cooled off just a bit.
So I started to wander. Wander around that last part of woods we hadn’t explored yet. I figured I could look for good spot to make a fort. If you know anything about little boys, you most definitely know that they just love to make forts in really cool woods. Especially really cool woods with really thick areas.
As I wandered around, trying to waste time and trying to look for a good spot, I found an area where the trees became sparser and sparser and where the forest floor became more and more dense. Actually, it became so dense that I had trouble walking through it. And I’ll be honest with you right now. There were times when I thought I was going to get tangled up in that forest floor.
Now mind you, this wandering of mine all occurred during a time of complete silence. My father wasn’t calling anymore, so I figured my brother had made it back to him. He was taking it like a pro, I’m sure. I’m certain my brother was telling my father all sorts of good stories and giving him good reasons why we were gone for so many hours. He was a champ at handling my father because early on in my brother’s life he had figured my father out. If you ever get in trouble for disappearing or doing something like we did that day, all you had to do is to act more excited than you were in trouble and you’d get away with it.
In other words, if my brother ran back to my father after hearing my father’s angry call, all my brother would have to do is to run to him with a big smile on his face. If he did that, and started explaining how much fun we had and didn’t give my father a chance to yell, then by the time my brother was through, my father would be all softened up. And my father would sometimes even end up on my brother’s side. Needless to say, my brother didn’t get in much trouble when he was a kid.
So, as I was struggling to make my way through this, ever so perfect for a fort, dense underbrush, I started stepping into some soft, dark soil. And the farther I walked, the softer and darker the soil got. My sneakers began getting wetter and wetter until they actually became submerged in water. Water that eventually made its way up above my ankles.
Now, let me tell you, this gave me great reason for pause. Actually pause for a few reasons.
Firstly, because I was sure I had just earned myself a whole bunch more trouble than I had from our earlier hike. Having a little boy slowly schlepp himself out of a woods with head hung low, only to stand before his father with black sneakers and saturated socks is never a good thing. That would require a lot of explaining and since my brother wouldn’t be standing by my side, I would have some real trouble finding someone to help absorb any amount of punishment that would be exacted. I was nowhere nearly as good at handling my father as my brother was.
And secondly, I had reason for pause because any really cool fort in the woods turned exponentially cooler if it had a pond in it. Because of this, I chose to focus more on the second reason for pause than the first.
I would say I explored that pond for a good hour or so. I walked all the way around its perimeter, getting dirtier and dirtier as I progressed. I walked left and I walked right. I walked so much that my legs hurt after all that walking. They also hurt because I had to keep pulling my tired feet out of that thick mud. And that mud was heavy.
But, there were times I found nice places to sit at that pond. It wasn’t all mud you know – there were some nice dry places to sit too. And the places I found to sit were beautiful. Really beautiful. I’m not sure what made the pond so beautiful that day – it may have had something to do with the weather. Because it was mid autumn, leaves were falling from the trees. Big yellow, red and purple leaves. They were falling and carpeting everything around me, especially the water. And as they landed on the water, they floated across its surface. At times, I even stood up to catch sight of leaves that had fallen earlier on and were now resting at the bottom of that pond, easily seen through the clear still water.
As I sat and as time passed by, I would at times feel a small breeze. And every time there was a small breeze, there would be more falling leaves. And like before, every new leaf to land on the surface of that pond would spend its time floating along, spend its given time and ultimately find its way to the bottom.
And I could smell those leaves. I’ll tell you that right now. As I sat there on the ground that day – gently leaning back on my elbows, I could smell those leaves and I could smell that autumn day. I sat and my eyes drifted closed. My head rolled back and my face was exposed to the tips of the forest – the place where the leaves had once hung. It was as if my senses were experiencing the final chapters of someone’s life being played out. I sat there and inhaled the scent of autumn, and as I did, I started breathing in deeper and deeper each breath I took.