Old Men and an Old Man on the Trails
Fall in the Pacific Northwest and the running gets quieter as the rains soften the leaf covered trails. I parked the car and started running down the Kettles Trail. I was headed for the old men up on Cedar Grove Trail–cedars and firs that have been shedding needles for two or three hundred years. One old man, limbs bent from fighting the wind while seeking the sun for these many many years, always brings me to a stop.
Six feet thick he stands, most limbs bare, bark deeply grooved and fire scarred on one side. Many times I have asked him what happened those summers and winters gone by. Just as many times no answer was offered. Three ravens were perched on his lower limbs one day. They told me tales of winters gone by, of summers long ago.
Today at the fork leading to the old men was another old man. He had a walking staff and stood to one side to allow me to pass. I pointed left, saying he was okay. He asked where my fork led. I slowed. You never know which interruption is to be an “important” one–which one is to becomes a memory–but the woods are not to be hurriedly passed through. I paused.
I told of the loop I was heading up, to the old trees, the “old men” as I called them. He said he was walking the trails trying to remember them from before the war. They weren’t trails then. They were logging roads. Oh. That war. My father’s war. He spoke of living and working out here, days at a time, never thinking of returning to town. The sounds of the axes would stop in the evening and the bluffs would call. He told of watching whales and ships and sunsets from the bluffs.
He asked of my running. I said it’s not really running. I pause to talk to trees and ravens and listen to the early songs of fall’s migrating birds. I run the bluffs answering the same calls you did those many years ago. Perhaps some of my whales were his whales before he left for less peaceful lands.
We talked of Vermont and of Georgia, of France and Germany, of the Pyrenees and the Rockies, of scattered families and friends, some gone, some remembered, some somewhere ever unknown to us.
He looked at his watch, smiled, “I must go and find my car,” he said.
I gave directions, offered my hand in thanks and farewell. The twists in the trail separated us quickly as I headed for the old men to tell them of an old man.
Perhaps they would remember his passing.
Run gently out there.