Sunday, June 21, 2020

The Path

No one had cleared the path to the stream that ran behind our house, at least not since my then young children and I had made it minimally passable some 25 years ago. Even then, it was barely discernible as it wound its way through the forest to water’s edge. For a number of years, the rough path had been a source of adventure and discovery, a small pristine valley not easily accessible to anyone other than our family. Recently, I felt the need to explore it again.

As I stood alone looking down the steep pathway, I observed that a lot had changed in a quarter-century. Regardless, I saw no danger. The first portion of the pathway looked easy enough; a 20-foot section down which I slid, my street shoes giving me no grip on the steep incline. About halfway down the embankment I remembered it was here years ago that my kids had tried to make a sled track on a rare snowy day.  Citing safety issues, I was the first to try out the snow-packed run.  I soon found out that I was right to be concerned. There was no easy way to stop the sled ride except by plunging into a huge blackberry patch, minus the leaves but not minus the thorns.

Fortunately, this time I was able to grab a large cottonwood tree trunk to stop my descent and avoid another tangle with the older and much bigger blackberry patch. The tree I was clinging to proved to be a memorable marker as it is where the path took a sharp turn and proceeded laterally across the face of the steep slope. When I started out on that portion of the path, there were only a few smaller twigs and limbs covering up the trail. But as I dropped towards the bottom of the small valley I found that the path was almost completely overgrown. The path seemed to lead in numerous different directions at the same time. Although each of the choices looked promising, they all ultimately led to a dead end amid the dense underbrush, fallen trees and patches of stinging nettles. I could not seem to locate any of the familiar natural markers I had expected to find, like the partly decomposed log I had once stepped on, infuriating the occupants of a wasp’s nest.  The angered wasps proceeded to attack my two younger children, causing frantic screams and burning red welts.  That event became a long remembered, often recited chapter in our family history.

The brush had become so dense that I could not see the river. Instead of the noisy chatter of the water rushing over and around boulders and collapsed tree trunks, all I heard was intermittent gurgling off in the distance. Breaking the relative silence, my cell phone rang. “Where are you?” my concerned wife asked. “In the forest behind the house, but I am not sure where” I replied, “But I’ll be home in a few minutes”.

It was difficult to speed up my pace to reach the river, so I thought I would try walking along a fallen tree, like a bridge lifting me above the dense underbrush and marshy areas. However, one thing that people with Parkinson’s rarely do well is balance. In this case, I proved the point by falling off the log, toppling 3 or 4 feet to the ground, landing unceremoniously on my derrière. The struggle to regain my footing amidst the mud, skunk cabbage and wild rose thorns proved painful and time-consuming. But once on my feet again I was able to get my bearings. I finally found what appeared to be a very small deer path that wove its way along a circuitous route, leading to the riverbank. What would have taken me seven or eight minutes’ years ago, took over 30 minutes, and that was only one way! With no time to enjoy the fruits of my labor, I set off on the return trip.

While the path did bring back memories, it also left me exhausted, with my clothes soaked through with sweat, and my body bruised, scraped and scratched. Indeed, a lot has changed over the last 25 years, on the path and with me!  

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