On my walk the other day, suddenly I felt sad. I think it was the wind, blowing strong and warm so that all the trees were swaying. There were willow branches strewn across the path, and dry leaves scuttling along the ground. Holdouts—still attached to nearly bare branches when autumn ended, they’ve been stuck up there all winter and were just now blown loose.
Something in me shook loose, too. Coming along the side of the golf course approaching the woods I started to cry. I was thinking about Dad and missing him. I was feeling how alone we are, each and every one of us. I remembered his dying—how Linda and I cried, sobbed, when he breathed his last. I felt so bereft in that moment, when he’d left us for good. Besides losing him, did I feel that the last bit of my childhood was ended? That I now had to cross over, too?
I tried to hold this thought: people we love are always with us, in a way. I dried my tears with the back of my hand and turned onto the little footpath behind the woods; walked towards the setting sun. A few strides in and I felt compelled to step off the trail and into the trees. It’s hard for me to feel sad, in the woods. So much is going on, so much growing there even if asleep. Some big trees lay horizontal, crumbling but still massive, beautiful; their twisting roots and weathered trunks like sculpture rising from the forest floor. Even decomposition can be beautiful, in the woods.
After a bit I turned back onto the path. Up ahead, I saw a figure: a man, in an orange sweatshirt, the hood pulled up and hiding his face like a cowl. He walked slowly, as if he were lame, almost limping. As I approached we were hidden from view, with the trees surrounding us, and I was cautious. I’ve been told many times in many locales not to walk alone, and though I still do it, there are often these moments: friend or foe? One can never be sure.
We passed each other and waved a quick wave, and I saw that he turned where the paved path ended, circled around and fell in behind me. I was walking much faster than he and stayed out in front as we came into the open, alongside the pond. In the trees on my right something caught my eye, a tuft of fuzz caught in the brush. I waded in and pulled it free—a downy feather, tipped with brown. Probably from the under-layer of a goose.
As I held it in my hand, studying it, he caught up to me.
I saw his face for the first time. He looked not much older than me. It struck me that his eyes were blue, like my dad’s. He smiled.
“A feather.” I stood like a child, cradling my prize.
“Lots of birds flying around.”
“Yeah. It’s very soft… Probably from underneath.”
“We do have geese around here.”
We started walking again and even as we began I outpaced him.
“Amazing how the snow has melted,” I called out, gesturing with my arm. “Just like that,” I snapped my fingers.
“Well this is Michigan. Don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.”
I’ve heard that saying a million times. But still I smiled.
“That’s for sure,” I said. I continued around the pond, his figure getting smaller behind me as I headed for home.
Alone. Yes, I suppose each of us is, in undeniable ways. But maybe not as much as I think, sometimes. Not so much, after all.