Return to the Forest

IMG_1011 IMG_2181 In one of my most favorite poems ever, “The Waking,” the American poet Theodore Roethke wrote, “God bless the ground; I shall walk softly there.” On Sunday, I did just that; I walked softly on the forest floor and gave thanks.

Had my foot not been badly sprained, the forest is the first place I’d have gone after my father’s death, but I was on crutches then. There is nowhere as good as the woods to bring sorrow. My foot’s healing has come slowly; my father died and I developed a limp. Michael took me up to Jacks Peak to walk the gentle Pine Trail and then onto the former logging road Lower Ridge where we could stroll two abreast and I could take Michael’s arm for stability, for calming reassurance.

Maybe it was twenty years ago, maybe it was twenty-five, some time ago, I began taking my father’s arm, at first for a different kind of stability, for the way that physical closeness can bring two people who’ve had a long tumultuous relationship. The experience of being near can remind of us what’s most true, the bedrock of love. My father and I never talked about my taking his arm when we’d walk along Pacific Avenue in downtown Santa Cruz and elsewhere; it was just something we’d do.

Standing beside him, I’d slip my hand into the crook of his arm. He always made way for my reach and kept me close. We walked that way for years, before walking that way helped him not totter, protected him from falling. Before he got slow. Before I got impatient with his slowness.

When I was a little girl and I was slow, he’d get frustrated at my slowness, and he’d say, gruffly but not meanly, “Grandma was slow, damn it, but she was 102 years old!” Like all young children, I was engaged by what I saw and stopped to look at everything. When, in my frustration, I used that same line on him, my father didn’t like it, and so I stopped, but reluctantly as I loved the chance, admittedly, to tease him, as he, most all my life teased me, and often not in kindness.

Yesterday, walking arm-in-arm with Michael, I brought my grief to the forest as I’d longed to do these past weeks but couldn’t. Michael’s patience and kindness welcome my sorrow. The forest is waking up; spring is everywhere. I saw my first Sticky monkey flowers of the season and my first Vetch. There goes my Pop, farther from me, and here comes spring again. “God bless the ground! I shall walk softly there.”

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