WEST FORK KICKAPOO - It’s a game I play, called Listen.
It’s quiet. I’m lying on the back deck, an open book on my chest, and I’ve just woken up. My face is warmed by sunshine—it feels red, hot, tight. And I think, “This is a gift.”
It’s a gift I give myself—the quiet, the rest, the alone time. Then I play the game. I listenand I name the sounds I hear.
The wind is rustling, pushing dried leaves across the deck. They sound like tiny bells as they roll past.
The spring run-off has swelled the creek from its normal trickle to a rushing stream, sounding as if thousands of bottles of champagne have been poured over the rocks. The water bounces through the creek bed under the flock of ducks, who are mostly silent, except for Wilma’s occasional shrill squawk of “Here! I’m here!”
The chimes that I insisted were broken for the first month after I hung them are now making harmony, the sound muted because, after I moved them four times (searching for the perfect place for them to dance), they ended up in front of the house, and I’m supine on the back deck.
I forget the game as I focus on their sweet melody, carried on the whoosh of the wind, willing myself to follow their notes while breathing deeply... Inhale love, exhale forgiveness.
But I’m brought back to the game by a sharp peep, peep, peep, followed by a chuckle. I sit up to see rust, then brown, a yellow bill, and a dark tail with white streaks. I lie back again and close my eyes, sighing, “Hello, Robin,” on a long, slow exhale.
Next I hear whimpering, which tugs at my heart. It’s Ruben, the youngest dog, who is also playing the game of Listen. He heard me move, knows I am here, and cries to join me. He’s safe and warm, and moments ago was contentedly lying in his king-sized kennel with Téte and Finnegan on this God-given day, until I shifted and his desire to be with me overwhelmed him.
Suddenly, a sharp pang of sorrow slices through me and I remember: I am not in the woods.
I am not following the West Ridge Trail through the vast meadow, where often I spy slumbering garter snakes on the well-worn path. I am not threading my way through the crests, curves, and saddlebacks of the forest two miles down to the sitting place.
The sitting place, where we always stop. Where I plop down on a log and watch the dogs, who arrived there long before me, already refreshed from the icy waters brimming with shiny watercress. Where on a hot day I can dip my bandanna into the stream, squeeze out the excess water, and wrap it back around my head.
There, the rocks still cradle the old spring from a long-ago farmstead. There I can listenfor days on end, catch a frog, watch bugs stride across water, and sit so long I can't tell where my body ends and the log begins.
I take root there. And I don’t care about time because there’s nowhere else I need to be on a Saturday.
But today I’m not there. I’m not backtracking a hop, skip, and a jump from the sitting place to the only thing I’ve ever adopted that doesn’t have fur or feathers: the Hanson Rock Trail.
I’m not pressing forward, sweat on my brow, the pups leading the way, noses to the ground, pulling in the delicious smells, while I search for the first signs of spring: the near-perfect bloodroot, the stripe of the first lavender-colored spring beauty, the neon scarlet caps, or the purple skunk cabbage that has already heated its way up through the marshland.
I am not huffing or puffing from the exertion of climbing, and then standing at the overlook from where, on a clear day, I can see Organic Valley and the village of LaFarge.
I am not well. I am napping in my backyard, unable to hike, still—long after the time I expected to have my body back, the gremlin long gone, and the newly replaced hip propelling me forward through my beloved world of trees and natural noises.
Something’s gone wrong, or maybe I’m impatient, or I’m back to having a bad back. But, I am not where I want to be. Not where my heart is. I am almost out of my mind with longing, a dark, deep sadness, like missing a friend who was always there, who always listens.
My body can still work, and I do. I can function. I can write, teach classes, read, and pray. I can survive. I can be thankful. But I still wish I were deep in the woods.
I could be angry, raging mad, shouting, “I’ll sue those bastards who made a hip that flaked apart in my body, causing this hell!”—or I can be silent and listen.Letting my eyes close, I breathe in love, exhale forgiveness. I savor this gorgeous spring day and that I am alive. Even if just for now, I can simply listen.