Monday, May 13, 2013

Saturday Mornings

Most of my Saturday mornings have been spent down a country dirt road in Salem, AL, outside a little house surrounded by a 30-acre wood. Our house shared that dirt road with the homes of two uncles and our big red barn. At one time, that barn housed chickens, goats, and the horses that my uncles would ride over the wooded landscape. My uncles made trails all throughout the woods for those horse rides, and in the process, they cleared the forest pathways of my childhood. I can roam those trails in my mind still today: through the barn gate, across the iron-grated bridge over the creek, and into the hush of sun-streaked tree tops and neighboring wildlife. I would spend many hours there in solitude, trekking the familiar trails, exploring beyond them as far as I dared.

Sometimes a city friend would come over, and he would want to get up early and take our BB guns out squirrel hunting. We never saw a single squirrel, and that was probably okay with me. The forest was a magical place, more fit for a sword or wizard’s staff than a gun. My dad once made for me a wooden sword and shield to wield on my forest adventures. I couldn’t have been more pleased if I had been Arthur pulling Excalibur from the Stone. The forest was my kingdom, and I its princely protector. I loved the place: every tree of the forest, every babble of the creek that flowed through it, every stone in the creek bed, every blade of grass on creek bank and field, and every warm breeze that bent those blades, blowing past us, whispering mysteries of fleeting childhood.

On the border of my kingdom, my eldest uncle’s house sat, its back to the dirt road. The front of the house faced the forest. Even then, even with my love for the land, this seemed odd to me. Why build your front door facing out of sight, away from the road, as if to shy from its connection to society?

I recently visited my parents’ house on a Saturday morning. I was helping my dad with a project in the backyard. As we worked, I noticed the trees surrounding the backyard cove. The forest is older now, and thinner. But the trees are wiser with age, and more beautiful. When we finished working, I took a moment to study them. The concave tree-line was a mirror of my own heart. The land was quiet, peaceful. The wind blew. 

Breaking the beckoning silence: “I think I’m going to walk down to the barn,” I told my dad.

I walked down the dusty road to the barn and went inside, breathing in the familiar smell of dirt and rust. Bees buzzed from their nests in the old horse stalls. I walked through the missing gate and into the brush of the once open field behind the barn. Making my way across the field, I walked, not climbed, over a fallen wire fence. On the other side, I found the old wooded trail that runs behind our house, surprised that some semblance of it still could be recognized. The trail led down to the creek, where I once crossed the stream on stepping stones or with a single, brave leap. This was now as far as I could go. Time had steepened the bank, and the creek was no longer crossable without some effort. The old king of Narnia no longer knew the way through his ancient kingdom. I stood there awhile, listening, bathing in the sound of water running over the smoothed rocks. Sunlight splashed the tree leaves as they quietly rustled in the cool morning breeze. 

“I could build a house here,” I thought. 

Like Peter on the Mount of Olives, I could conceive of no better response to the glory around me than to take up residence in its midst. I can imagine such a life, such a homestead in the woods. I would walk out my door on a Saturday morning to the happy murmuring of the creek. I would look up and see sunlight glimmering in the gently swaying treetops. I would sense the Spirit whisper mysteries in the wind, the mysteries of turning old and growing young. Like a gray king, or a wise uncle, I would look out with knowing eyes. All of my kingdom would stretch before me as I stood there, right outside my door – my front door. 

You could come to visit. You could follow the dirt road right up to my back door. You are welcome to come inside for some coffee and conversation. Eventually, when we’ve said all there is to say, we’d make our way out to the front porch and sit and listen. That’s when the real conversation would begin, but not between us. From the front porch, that cupped hand on the house’s ear, we would eavesdrop on ancient conversations between water and stone, wind and tree, sunlight and horizon. We’ll hear their tales of great adventures past and yet to come. And in that moment, we’ll be happy the front porch faces such a fine society. And we will breathe deeply the fine breaths of our Saturday evening.

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