Tony Vagneur: Find peace in the memories that last through generations
My grandson, who is 3, doesn’t want a story read to him on this night, but prefers a tale told by his mother, who in good storytelling fashion, makes it one about him. How they traveled all day by horseback, finally reaching the welcoming cow camp deep in the green, pine forest.
The fire warms them and cooks their dinner while the song birds gradually, one by one, cease their calling as the cloak of nightfall silently approaches. Eyes become heavy, wanting sleep; the lantern is turned off and the mantles, meticulously woven by Chinese silkworms, slowly dim, slowly, until all eyes close with welcome slumber.
By now, my grandson is fast asleep in his bed at home and my daughter, for a brief, enjoyable moment, is back in her bunk at the cow camp she so loved as a child, living the memory of the slowly fading lamp light disappearing into darkness.
In this world of ever-encroaching technology, memories of being out in the natural world without an iPhone or iPad forever in front of us become paramount to claiming natural connections with our own lives. Without those memories, we risk losing a vital link to our own inner peace.
My dog is ready; he looks at me, knowing I’ve finished lunch and it’s time to get moving again. I carelessly toss a small piece of uneaten bread over my shoulder, pick up my lunch fixings and head toward my horse, who shifts his butt around in a signal that he knows we’re on the move again.
As we head down the trail, our mission for the day done, I see over my shoulder a raven swoop down and take that last piece of flung sandwich in his mouth and flap into a tall, ragged aspen tree. After that, I’m on his radar and five of us now are moving off the mountain — my dog, my horse, me and two ravens, who circle high above but follow us as sure as if they were walking with us.
Topper, the dog, darts ahead, sniffing this plant or that branch, able to tell what and how many recently passed this way. The horse keeps a lookout on the dog, but is also aware of almost everything in a near 360-degree vision, including the ravens overhead, who see everything, including the past and the future.
Three or four deer jump and move to the side, giving us safe passage but keep steely eyes on our troupe until they realize there’s no danger from us. Their heads bob back down into the plentiful grass.
The generations of men before me who traveled that path cross my mind, and I feel fortunate to be able to share the same terrain they once enjoyed, but my thoughts also run to their long-ago dogs and horses, even to the wild birds of the sky.
It’s a lonely trail, seldom used by anyone but me, fashioned by the hooves of cattle, elk and deer traipsing over it through the years, and it’s also part of an old sled road used to skid timber out of the winter forest over 100 years ago.
In my arrogance as a human, and as clear as can be, it’s my trail, one I’ve known for almost 70 years, and just like the men before me, it will undoubtedly be part of my dying vision, a part of my life on this Earth that can’t be separated from who I was.
But it’s not my trail, not any more than it is my dog’s, or the trail of my horse or anything else that frequents it. More than once I’ve seen bear or cougar imprints over the top of our tracks when going back the other direction.
When my dog reaches the end of his journey, from illness or a well-aimed cow hoof, visions of traveling that trail will no doubt be part of that which carries him over the divide, just as it’s done for the many good horses that have left us, looking for the next great pasture in the sky.
And when the wild birds cry from above, whether they like us or not but somehow recognize a symbiosis, we know that we are participating in their world. My daughter will never forget the retreat of the lamp light, nor will my grandson ever forget the story. We look up and know we are blessed.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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