He took my hand as we started down the path and I couldn't help but think how strange it felt. Try as I might, I could not think of any other time within the last quarter century that I had walked a wooded trail without a baby within, or strapped to my chest, or holding my hand. Or all three.
And still, it felt really right. If I were asked to pick a moment when I first knew--really knew--that I was in love with this man, it was on a wooded trail. The man was a boy back then. Those woods, those dear, familiar east coast woods, were so very young compared to the woods we were about to walk that day in California.
How fitting then, that this clear September day found us in the woods again. The grown-up woods. Even the grown-old woods. For nearly half the Septembers of our marriage I have been round with child. But not this September, or the three just past. It's been a process of letting go. I was the mom with the baby for so long and I loved being that mom so much. The letting go has not been quick or easy. I am painfully aware that the seasons of autumn babies are no more. Slowly, I see glimpses of what lies ahead, in these years after babies. More than anything I am struck by how full they can be of that first love, the one that set the rest in motion.
He's still here. My heart still skips a beat every single time I encounter him again after he's been away. It's not that young, green love of the forest by the lake in the town where we were children. It's a big, grown up love, the kind you find in a forest with scarred trunks and soaring treetops. So we set off down the path, just us, beginning a new season of our lives together.
The trees were breathtaking. They are massive, old trees, trees with a history that stretches back a full 2,000 years. My camera was no match for their immense presence. I could not begin to capture the essence of that forest.
I stood and stared long and hard inside the burned out redwood. Trees created to last forever? Truly made of resilient stuff. The fire burned within, but it didn't kill the tree. Instead, the tree grew anew. I thought of the grave realities we met so early, the really scary stuff, the heated words, the tired anger, the every day hard work of figuring it all out. The fires of us. And there he was. Still. Tall and strong against the sky. New life, new love growing still, reaching heavenward. Always reaching heavenward.
He delighted in my awe, watching me dance along the shaded path as if I were a character in an Elsa Beskow book. I could tell he was well pleased with himself for insisting we go all that way to see the trees. I told him I could stay there forever. He suggested we send for the children. The children! They would love the giant forest we discovered. We'll bring them back there, I promised myself. And we'll get them out in their own eastern woods more often.
I left with great reluctance, inhaling deep the scent of that rich forest as if I could keep the big wonder of it inside of me even as we went. Trees. Trees put there by the Creator around the time the Son walked the same earth. Forever trees. It's a mystery, really, how anything can last forever in this disposable world. Some things do, though.
And a grace.