Alone in my dreams, the world around me was dazzling and my mood was wondrous but sad.
The next morning, I caught a bus to my village and watched the cities disappearing into a blur of grey. I got off the bus and stopped beside the river. Rays of sunset light shimmered on the water, reminding me of impressionist paintings that captured nature’s moods in dots of colours.
Everything was changed except the river. I could hardly believe so much time had passed since my last visit. I didn’t recognize anything. I turned around and walked the dimly lit streets that were lined with small stone cottages on either side. I stumbled around in the darkness, hoping to find the village square where I might at least orient myself or encounter a villager. I grew weary, so I went to knock on the red door of a random cottage. As my fist rose, I saw a man entering the village with a herd of goats and cows. Even though it had started to drizzle, I could feel the peace and leisure with which he walked as he approached. As he drew closer, I recognized that he was my grandfather. After retiring from teaching, he spent most of his time taking care of his animals.
Soon, the baa’s of his flock overwhelmed every other sound. A few minutes later, we were face to face. I breathed the life in the air as he drew closer; the bells around the animals’ necks grew louder. My heart warmed as his grey beard danced in the wind. I relaxed into his embrace.
‘You’re finally here, I see,’ he said.
‘Yes ,Grandpa, The trip took its toll on me.’ I fell into step alongside him.
‘How is your life in the city? I read your article in the paper last week. I love your words. I found them amusing.’
‘Fine, Grandpa. My life is fast paced. It’s hard to keep up with at times, but I think the tradeoff is fair. I make good money and don’t want for anything.’
He wrapped one arm around my shoulders as we made our way to his home. His heavy shawl protected me from the rain.
‘Do you still like this weather?’ I asked.
‘If I love anything in the world, it’s the rain. Even now, when I’m too old and it’s too cold, I still answer its call. There’s sweetness in its scent and an energy that infects me. A sense of consciousness washes over me; time slows down. I feel it coursing through my veins. Sometimes I wonder if I only like the rain so as to be different from all the people who hate it.’
He shrugged his shoulders as his eyebrows lifted toward his hairline.
‘Maybe I’m just out of my mind. I love the sound of the thunder rolling through the house. I also know my garden is getting a good watering.’
The drizzle grew to a steady downpour, so we quickened our pace.
I found myself in a cramped but tidy room. A log burned in the fire place. Grandpa led me to a chair as my eyes adjusted to the darkness, grumbling to let me know that it was previously his. Upon sitting, I found that I didn’t want to turn my head because the warmth of the fire offset the chill air. As I stared into the flames, a pleasant grogginess came over me.
‘Grandpa, when was the last time you went to the city?’
‘Fifteen years ago. Your father took me. No more than a week passed before I determined that I was not able to live there. Nature called to me every morning. I had to come home.’
‘What did Nature say to convince you to come back?’ I asked as I inhaled the steam from the bowl he set in front of me.
‘She told me she missed me,’ he chuckled.
‘Do you remember when you were a child and how much you loved being outdoors?’
I winced as he shoveled a spoonful of the hot stew into his mouth.
‘When you were a child, you fell in love with summer, mostly because you didn’t like wearing shoes. When it rained, you played as if there was no tomorrow, not caring that you were getting your shorts wet. I remember you telling me how good the mud felt between your toes. Your grandma would always get mad at me because she had to clean up your little footprints every day.’
The memories were a springboard for others that ran through my mind. I remembered being fascinated with the chickens he kept in the back yard. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t seem to catch one, though he made it look easy. I would follow grandma inside the coop, the hens clucking and twittering. I remembered the warmth and softness of their feathers on my palms.
‘What do you think about coming to live with me in the city? You’re getting older and you need someone to help take care of you. I’m just concerned about you being alone, Grandpa.’
‘Oh, but I’m not. I am with the Earth.’ The edge of the cup hid his face as he drank what remained of his stew. He leaned back in his chair and rubbed his belly, a smile spreading across his lips. ‘I think we should sleep now.’
The next morning, I woke up to Grandpa’s usual complaints about me sleeping too late. Breakfast was waiting when I entered the kitchen. It was my favorite: fresh butter on whole-wheat toasted biscuits that were, of course, homemade. After breakfast, we traveled to the pasture. I was amazed that his horses and cattle moved to the fields without any guidance. From the oak tree we sat under, it looked as if they were following the wind. The smell of freshly cut grass wafted into my nose. I stretched my legs over the soft grass.
As I laid next to him, it wasn’t hard to understand why his feelings for the Earth were as passionate as they were. It had been his muse since the beginning of his life. I relaxed more with each breath, the ground molding to the shape of my body.
‘It feels good being in touch with the Earth like this, Grandpa.’
‘You are feeling its love. We are made from this. The same love the Creator has for the Earth, he has for us, because we are one and the same. This –’ he placed the mound in my hands ‘– is where we come from and we must always remember that.’
His eyes peeled open. He motioned for me to stay where I was.
He asked me if I knew why my father died. I didn’t answer because his death was mystery..
‘Your father, the oldest of my children, started his life as a child of the Earth. He was much like you. He loved playing in the garden, making tracks and roads for his toy vehicles, staying to himself most of the time. His downfall began when he moved to the city. It wasn’t long after that he lost his connection with the Earth. That is the reason your father, my son, died so young.’
I retreated into my mind as I remembered how lonely my dad had been. He spent the most of his last days alone in his room. My mother and I found him dead in his chair. He lived and died in silence. It made sense that he died for not living his truth.
‘I want to know more about your connection to the Earth, Grandpa, as well as your childhood.’
‘I’ll tell you about my favorite tree. When I was a boy, it was my escape from the world.’ He adjusted his position and cleared his throat. ‘It was reaching the heat of the day, the air stale, and the temperature smoldering. The grass, brown from lack of water, crunched under my feet with each step. Despite the heat dulling my senses, I could still hear a song in the breeze. The shaking leaves acted as a tambourine, the crickets resembled a quartet of strings. The humming wind brought it all together, creating the perfect symphony.’
Grandpa’s nose whistled as he inhaled. When his chest expanded as far as it could, he slowly released the air through the small gap between his lips. His shoulders dropped a bit more with each breath, his spine becoming straighter. I closed my eyes and matched his breath; the rhythm soon matched the rhythm of the music in the air. Once he was completely relaxed, he continued his story.
‘I found refuge under the shade of an old pine tree. I used to climb into it, resting on the branches. Though I was small, I was strong, but I was bolder than I was strong. The neighbors called me a wild child. I never quite figured out why, though it could have been because I dared to cross the scorching gravel driveways with my bare feet.’
‘And here I thought you were a good boy,’ I teased.
‘I was a good boy…most of the time.’
. He told me how he thought of climbing trees as a challenge, hearing the branches taunting him about not being tall enough to reach them. ‘On the days I didn’t have the energy to climb, I would dance in circles, the animals my audience and the shade my stage.’
Though his memory was foggy on the rest of his childhood, the tree and his adventures with it were vivid. To him, it was more than a tree. It was his life.
Evening was encroaching when Grandpa called his dog to him. The dog’s deep barks intermingled with the herd’s steps, adding to the day’s song.
‘Look at the setting sun,’ grandpa instructed.
I flashed my gaze in the direction he pointed. I wasn’t paying much attention, my mind lost in my own vision of flying.
‘Look again. If you only take a quick look, you won’t see everything that is there. Most people never learn how to see with their heart. The eyes only allow one to see what is on the surface. True sight takes practice. It starts with trusting your inner feelings.’
That night was the last night I spent with Grandpa.
Next day he walked with me to the bus stop. He was silent. When the bus showed up, he kissed my head and said, “We love each other, but we have to go separate ways; goodbye.”
I saw him moving towards the setting sun. Once the bus took off, I waved at him but he had moved forward towards the sinking sun. I could see both sinking to unknown world.
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