I walk through our mountain house that hides from the rest of the world that lies beyond the woods. I stop as I enter the living room. I can see my four-year old son sitting on the floor. His castle is before him. Some of his men are laid out around the carpet, while others balance precariously on plastic turrets. In his imagination, a battle is going on between good and evil and I am about to trounce upon it and disturb his carefully planned strategies. Gingerly, I take another step. But the room and floor are empty. The image that was so real to me, was just a shadow from long ago.
In the kitchen my husband is at the stove making breakfast. The table is partially set with orange juice, butter, and mugs for our morning tea. He is warming the plates in the oven while he toasts the bread and scrambles the eggs. I hear my nine-year old daughter just outside of the kitchen window. She is sitting at the picnic table with her water-colors and paintbrushes. She’s painting the mountain that rises in the distance beyond the dirt road. She’s chattering and telling me about the sounds she can hear in the woods and the animals she is sure are hiding just behind the tree-line. I almost reply, but then notice that all is silent except for the movements of my husband at the kitchen stove. Once again, it was just an echo of long ago.
Later, my husband and I climb the long rocky path toward the waterfall, high in the Catskill Mountains. Several storms, over the past couple of years, have ravaged the path and it now resembles a dry riverbed more than a mountain trail. This makes the hiking difficult. My husband stops me and ties my hiking boots tighter so that I won’t twist an ankle. We walk on and I see that autumn has come to the mountain. There are leaves of red and gold covering the ground. For a moment, I can hear our ten-year old son and fifteen-year old daughter just behind us as they search for snakes, frogs, and salamanders. I turn to check on them, but the path behind me is empty.
My husband says he wants to check on his old hunting spot and so I follow him as he blazes a new trail and we leave the old path behind. We come to a fallen tree and he puts his pack down and starts to walk on without it. I sit on the tree to rest and say, “I’ll wait here.” He looks at me and knows he will be going beyond my field of vision. He says, “No, we stick together.” So I stand up and follow him further into the woods. Super-storm Sandy came through a couple of years ago and stately old trees had been toppled like dominoes. After some searching, he finds his old spot and I watch him as he clears the ground below his perch. As I wait, there’s a fly that keeps trying to fly into my mouth, so I recite, “There was an old lady who swallowed a fly. I don’t know why she swallowed a fly, perhaps she’ll die.” And I go on, through the whole poem, as my husband keeps working. I start singing other camp songs until I come to one that I can’t quite remember. I turn to ask my daughter how the song goes, I always depended on her to remember the words to it. But the woods are silent around me.
We continue our walk back to the path and climb further and further until we can hear the waterfall. We rest on the rocks in this cool and peaceful oasis. The water is low, it had been a dry summer, but that does not diminish the beauty of this place. We reminisce about when we would come here with our first dog, Duke, and our children, when they were little. In more recent years, we came with our dog, Daisy, and our teenagers. Now we come alone. Daisy is back at the house, she isn’t able to make the climb anymore and the children are off, building their futures. One is with his college friends, kayaking on the Hudson River, while the other is enjoying “museum day” in New Orleans where all museums are free for the day. My husband and I prepare to retrace our steps on the trail, at least it’s down-hill from here. An hour later we reach the base of the trail and see a young couple just starting to climb. They are holding hands as they walk. I smile and say to them, “It’s a long road from here.” They smile back at me and I can see that they aren’t concerned about the road ahead of them. I stop for a moment and watch them walk on, remembering that it was not so long ago that we were them.
Finally, we reach our mountain home and lift our heavy feet to climb the deck stairs. My husband opens the door to the house and Daisy comes bounding out. She licks me in her excitement to see that I have returned. We settle on deck chairs and listen to the quiet sounds of the woods. I look toward the mountain that my daughter had painted long ago, the same one that we’ve just climbed. I reach my hand out toward my husband and he takes hold of it in his.
http://www.theresadodaro.com Author of The Tin Box Trilogy