An old man, a BOSU ball, and how to hide wisdom, all in the woods.

October 19th, 2013, 9am

I thought I was alone. But, I always do on mornings like this. When you don’t see another human soul, and the biophony envelopes without distraction, it’s an easy thought to entertain.

The kids will be exploring the wetlands today, and I am checking trail conditions. Fall has settled over the valley, and chased out the last of summer’s warmth. The sun is hidden this morning behind sombre skies that promise rain. The beauty I tried to capture in this picture makes me wish I were a real photographer. I want you to see why I chose this place. Just minutes before I snapped this photo, the pond was dotted with Canadian geese breaking the silence with their calls. The sharp whistle of a train, and the rumble it sent through the earth (I felt it in my feet) sent them scattering into the sky. Could stop here forever, but time is short. Returning to the main trail, I find him, or he me.

He is old, almost 80 he tells me. He asks if I am having trouble finding the trails. He smiles. He has something to tell. No, I tell him. No trouble. Been coming here for years, I reply. We stop. Two men standing in the middle of a trail. Forty years, he’s been hiking out here. Used to bring his kids when they were little, he did. All five of them. Now, when the grandkids visit, he brings them here too, because he wants this for them. He sighs, growing up in Germany was different. He looks around. He knows the old trails, the ones used by the aboriginals. He smiles thinly and says “God bless them” when he refers to the “conservation people” who want to keep people off the old trails, but who bring huge groups out on the new trails, “destroying them” he says. We begin to walk, shoulder to shoulder. Two men. He tells me it is important to exercise when you are old. Keeps you young, I offer. No, he says. He goes to the gym, three times a week. He hates it. But accepts it because it allows him to keep doing what he loves. Which is to hike here, in the Rouge. His secret: the BOSU ball. Heard of it, he asks. Yes, I tell him. He is pleased. We walk on. Two men. Communicates with the grandkids via email. Tells them stories. No advice. Not anymore. Tried to give his sons advice—they never took it. Stubborn bastard, the oldest one is, he tells me. Just like his father, he says laughing. Maybe if you hide the advice in a story, it might work better, I say. He smiles and nods approvingly, morning sky reflecting off the lenses of his gold, wire framed glasses. You have children, he asks. No, I answer. You would be a good father he tells me. Thank you. And I am smiling. Happy, right down to my toes. Two men. Walking. We reach the clearing by a side road at the trailhead, where hikers park their cars. He wishes me a good day, and he continues to his car. I watch him drive away in his big, silver, late-model American sedan—an old man’s car.

Chris, Cassie, Kristen, Paul and 2 others said thanks.

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Mark Yearwood

Can a man remake his life? In the woods, no less? I am trying.

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