"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Monday, May 27, 2013

Trail of Hearts

The trail, wide and dirt-packed, is reassuringly familiar every time I walk it. For the last two decades I've traveled this path, and while it changes predictably with each season, my seasons have extended one into the other much more slowly.

I was barely in my forties when we moved here, when I discovered the park, when I began exploring all it had to offer—the trail in particular. I was newly sober. I had not yet met Kathleen. I still believed that in leaving the cult, I had also left God behind, and any hope of ever being acceptable to him again. I went about creating as respectably normal a life as I could, a sort of substitute for God: teaching, being married, trying to find a place in my family of origin. We had a golden retriever, a handful of cats, and a cute cottage in the country.

There is no memory of the first walk in the park, or of any walk really except the most recent. Yet every time I set foot on this particular trail, I feel at home in away I don't anywhere else. The seasons present themselves in comforting symmetry.

Summer, my first season there, meant lush overarching greenery, sun-dappled shadows, the river singing in the distance, and each step accompanied by the chirps, whirs, and melodies of towhees, robins, juncos, song sparrows. Once, on an early morning stroll, a deer bounded across the path. At the beginning of the season, salmonberries offered sustenance. At the end of the season, it was plump wild blackberries.

I learned to anticipate the turning into fall when big leaf maples dropped giant yellow leaves onto the trail, at first one here and there, and then in thick blankets that invited kicking through. Vine maples flamed. The trail itself became dusty, all greens muted under shades of gray. Winter wrens arrived, and flocks of golden-crowned kinglets ringing like fairy bells in fir branches overhead.

When the rains began, bringing winter in, washing leaves and dust away, the trail's beauty shifted. Deciduous branches sketched stark shadows against gray skies. Views previously blocked by endless green revealed the river rolling wildly, its gentle summer song became giant's roar. Air nipped exposed skin. Breathing was like swallowing snow.

Just when it seemed winter would strip all color from life and the world, that it would be the final, permanent season, violets would appear in a certain spot, first as heart-shaped leaves, then flowering into delicate purple and white posies. At the same time robins returned in all their raucous glory. Shortly after, trilliums bloomed, then bleeding hearts, and false solomon's seal. And before I knew it, the cycle repeated once more, with variations from year to year, but mostly, reassuringly, the same.

I returned to the trail at the end of this last winter after a long absence caused by a very young and headstrong puppy and my failing hip.

That first walk this year was like returning home. The trail had not changed at all in the months without me. I was giddy with both my ability to walk pain-free and with the sense of connection to the seasons with a capital "s." I was also carrying the weight of a particularly harsh inner winter which seemed to not want to release its hold and step aside for a new season.

It was on one of those walks—the violets had already bloomed and gone, the trilliums were still in their prime, and baby pink bleeding hearts were just emerging from lacy green nests—that I first noticed the heart-shaped rock embedded in the bark of an ancient douglas fir tree.

At first I wondered if it had always been there, pushed up from the ground as the tree grew. But it was at eye level and tucked so neatly between the grooves of the bark, I knew someone had placed it intentionally. This rock was at the beginning of the trail and as I proceeded, wondering about its story, I noticed another. The next one was just as neatly tucked at eye level. Then it became a treasure hunt, and I was not disappointed. There was a pattern to the placement—always close to the trail, near eye level and tucked in the gnarled bark gullies of venerable old firs. More than two dozen stone hearts, sentinels along the trail, stretching from one end to the other.  

By the end of the trail, I was completely enchanted. An enchantment that followed me home that day and that electrifies my heart still. My winter began to lift. Wonder began to replace darkness. Curiosity about the story behind the trail of hearts seemed to open doors and windows I didn't realize were blocked.

A couple of weeks later the hearts were gone. Every last one. All at once. I still look for them. Create stories about them. Send gratitude to the hand that placed them and to the hand that directed my eyes to them.

I ponder my own trail of hearts, the seasons that led me to this particular spring. Sobriety stable. Kathleen passed through, our season together way too short. Still sorting out the complicated spiritual relationship that both led me to the cult and took me away from it, and that all these years later remains a mystery to me. Finally feeling at home in the life created to prove something that couldn't be proved, and that turns out to be more real and satisfying than I could ever have imagined.

My heart carries them all, the stone hearts and the seasons passed, with abundant room and eager anticipation for whatever the path brings next.




22 comments:

patricia said...

I can now, picture the path, and the hearts (even though I have never seen them.) You are such a blessing to me and my journey. I just love your wisdom and your faith. May your blessings be many, no matter the season.

Barb said...

Reading your post reminds me of all my own life's paths leading somehow to the trail I now follow. The gift of the hearts is magical - especially because they were so transient. Have a great vacation from school, Deb. Relax and enjoy!

Retired English Teacher said...

As I read this post, I glanced up at the heart shaped rock that you gave me when we at Vashon Island. I keep it on my desk under my framed picture of my three girls. I remember our meeting. I remember how our hearts found so much in common. I remember that we have been on similar trails that led into and out of a cult. We both lost daughters to the same tragic circumstance. We were both teachers.

I too am enchanted by the rocks. Where did they come from? I'm not sure that matters. They spoke to your heart. That is what matters. I hope this coming season brings you great healing, peace and joy. Hugs.

DJan said...

I too went to my own little spot where I keep things of value and picked up the heart-shaped rock you gave me last fall. The gift you have of bringing light out of the words you write, and the gift of kindness that pours out of you, they are surrounding me now as I hold that little heart-shaped rock.

Thank you for your own journey that has culminated in this very precious moment, and this post. Blessings in abundance I wish for you! :-)

B. WHITTINGTON said...

You make the reader such an integral part of your tapestry of words, I'm near tears as i finish your piece. Beautifully written, not just a walk in the woods but a walk through your/our lives as we connect our past with our present and then our futures.
Blessings. Keep writing and sharing.

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

Deb, this is a lovely reflection on your journeys. I don't think I knew about the cult, and your comments about your ambiguous feelings make me realize that my thoughts on the subject have been oversimplified. Thank you so much for this post.

yaya said...

Each of us on our own special trail...even if circumstances are similar..as some of the blogger comments seem to be..we each have a path that is lined with special messages, meaning and hopefully, healing. My sister (who also has lost a child), created a path in her garden and called it her "journey path". It's lined with the special plants, items, and memories that are part of her journey. It brings comfort when she goes there. I hope your trail continues to comfort you as well.

BECKY said...

Deb, although you don't write a blog post often, when you do...it's always magical. You have such a way with words that most of us only wish we had. Hugs to you!

Linda Reeder said...

I think I wish I knew you well. In not knowing you, I feel I am missing out. Your writing is so wonderful, your spirit must be too.

#1Nana said...

I, like Sally and DJan, immediately thought about my heart shaped rock also. This piece is a lovely metaphor of your journey. I wanted to travel the path longer with you and learn more about your travels.

kario said...

I have so missed you and your forays into nature and writing. I suspect that this summer will be a very fertile one for you and I know with all my heart that those rocks were there as a message to you. No accidents, my friend.

JKS said...

Magical and mystical - thank you!

Joanne said...

A perfect post...beautiful...just beautiful. Sally from "Retired English Teacher blog" wrote me about this post, because i posted about my painted stones today. I'm glad I stopped by.
Blessings, Joanne

Terri Tiffany said...

I ponder my own trail of hearts, the seasons that led me to this particular spring.

My favorite line. I love the trail you take your reader on as you share what is in your heart!

Terri Tiffany said...

And I just read Retired English Teacher's post to you--you met? How wonderful for you both!

Katie Gates said...

Deb! I decided yesterday -- quite spontaneously -- to return to blogging, and so I also have returned to blog-reading. I just read several of your recent posts, and as in the past, your distinct voice brought tears to my eyes. You write so beautifully, and I am grateful that you share your words.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

You describe so vividly what you hear and see and you have touched my heart along your path. I wish I had as much awareness of the bird songs and sight of the early plants as they peak through the earth. You are blessed with something special.I am ready to learn more.

Pam said...

"...I feel at home in a way I don't anywhere else". This must surely be Nature's gift to us, and a precious one at that. There are magical areas I feel this too, not people or population based - simply landscapes that speak to the heart and emotions.
Wishing you deep peace on your journey Deb. I always enjoy your writing.

Deb said...

Lovely Deb. Just reading about the path made me feel calmer. Thank you for that.

deborahjbarker said...

A trail of hearts - the stuff that stories are made of and your tale was as hauntingly beautiful as any Deb. Thank you.

Dee said...

Dear Deb, it seems to me that this posting encapsulates the mystery that is life. Peace.

Sandi said...

Ah Deb! Love this trail of hearts! What a gift, not just that someone had the inclination, but also that you had the eyes to see. Beautifully written, like a song. Love you!