Occasionally I have those adult sentimental moments where I think about my childhood and how goofy I was (I have never actually grown out of my goofiness) or about funny little things that somehow foreshadowed events to come. I had such a moment just today while out on a hike with the Bowie Dog. My thoughts wandered to my Papaw.
I have often questioned what Papaw would think of my current lifestyle, you see he died before Darwin and I took on the AT. His death was one of many things that started us on a path or trail if you will to the AT, to a more nomadic life.
I pondered these things as Bowie and I hiked…
My eyes focused in on a patch of trail covered with various small pebbles and bigger rocks. Listening to the crunch of the pebbles and debris under my shoe, my mind shifted to “The Alley” as it sounded so very much the same.
Behind my grandparent’s house was an alley. This alley had all alley like characteristics: it ran behind a block of neighborhood houses, it had rocks, potholes, weeds, trash cans, etc. But there was something else that made this particular alley different. You see, this alley was magical for it eventually led into the secret place where Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, Leprechauns and the like congregated. Guess who knew all of them on a personal basis? You guessed it, my Papaw! I grew up with amazing stories of the encounters Papaw had with Santa as he came down the alley to check on my status of “good or bad”. A “little birdy” would travel down the alley too and sometimes spare time to chat with Papaw. This same little birdy would often leave behind a jump rope or something for outdoor fun. I often envisioned the alley turning magically into a dirt path that wandered its way underneath a rainbow and over grassy green hills (this scene in my head is vaguely similar to the cartoon world at the end of Roger Rabbit). You see the alley behind my grandparent’s house gave my Papaw “connections” with the top dogs in my child life. Although it may sound strange, I believed every word of it. My Papaw and I were incredibly close and I never had a reason to doubt him. How could I when Mamaw always confirmed these Hollywood Star-like sightings.
Bowie and I continued on our way. Her sniffing everywhere and me just following where my legs took me, my mind elsewhere…
Bowie and I came upon a little pine tree on the edge of the trail. It seemed to be half-hazardly growing with its taller, stronger brethren behind him. I gazed at this little guy and once again I was taken away, now standing in my grandparent’s backyard in front of Papaw’s “Charlie Brown Tree”…
In that same magical alley, I mentioned before I would spend a lot of time in the summer picking weeds around the area closest to my grandparent’s garage. I would usually get paid handsomely for my labor, two shiny silver quarters. One summer, however, Papaw selected a lucky little weed to plant to my Mamaw’s dismay, in her flower garden. I teased my Papaw for saving this little weed, as did the rest of my family but slowly this little weed took on the shape of a pine sprout. We dubbed it “Charlie Brown Tree” as it was as sickly looking as the one Charlie Brown selects in the Christmas Special. My grandmother always threatened to rid her garden of “that weed” but my Papaw would only threaten back, no one was to touch it. With time the little sprout outgrew the flowerbed. My Papaw and only him, placed it into a special spot in the backyard and there it grew stronger. During one harsh winter, the tree bent under the weight of the ice and snow that clung to its topmost branches. We thought it was the end of the little tree but my Papaw remained stern as we joked about putting a single red ornament on its bent top.
Bowie and I were now further down the trail and completely surrounded by pines of all shapes and sizes. I only wished to see Papaw’s Charlie Brown Tree. Although it’s been six years since my Papaw’s death, that tree he planted remains steadfast, strong and over ten feet tall.
I follow Bowie up a small ascent to our camp and as the sun shines on our happy little home I can’t help to again think of Papaw. Camping is something I never experienced with my grandparents but rather something I heard them talk about. Pulling a small camper an hour or two to an RV site with a cooler full of beer in tow was a big trip for them. That same cooler my Mamaw gifted to Darwin and me only a few years before her own death. It seemed at the time appropriate; we would be needing that vintage Coleman Cooler someday. I couldn’t imagine what either would say about our set up now.
Going on a hike clears your mind and lets you wander down nostalgic trails you haven’t been on in a long time. It’s part of nature’s magic. My Papaw’s birthday would have been December 7th, which I suppose is why I have him on my mind. I still can’t help but find it funny that someone who never strapped on a pack and went for a hike or even spent time in the wilderness as far as I know, is so easily brought back to me by hiking.
Any trail can eventually lead to a person long passed if you give your mind the opportunity to take you there.
(A Young Bowie Dog and A Papaw)
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