As we went deeper and deeper into the woods, beyond the area turned nature preserve by my dad, I began looking for the landmarks I remembered from my youth: the apple trees near the front of the old woods, the giant cottonwoods in the center of the swamp, the small drainage swale feeding the swamp from the field, the massive maple in the center of the woods, the small knoll with old oaks, the random large boulder by the west side, among others. The strange thing is that the woods looked so different from my recollection of youth 30 years ago. A few remained but looked strangely out of place....as if the drainage swale and massive maple moved from their original locations....their new environs looking nothing like their former.
I remembered being a bit more agile, deer-like almost, maneuvering through downed trees and under low branches in my youth. Yesterday I stumbled through cracking large limbs and small logs on the forest floor and breaking out dead branches in my path.
I pointed out things to my son that were the landmarks of my days in the woods....signs that would let me know how far back I had gotten and how long it would take to get home. Once I said, "here are the ancient oaks....huh, wait, no.....well, where are they-oh, over here". It was at that time I began to think of this trip through the woods as a reflection on people who come and go in our lives. This has been particularly fresh with me as friendships have come and gone.
There are people in our lives with whom we've shared some gruelling or intimate moments, friendships that have as their hallmark this one, or two major "landmark" moments in our lives. And we can't hardly think of the friendship without the moment, or moment without the friend. But as we go on with our lives, with distance between us and that event and developing new friendships, the landscape can begin to look a little strange. Sure, the landmarks stand but soon their environment seems to change. "oh yeah, that was my buddy so-n-so who really helped me through that tough time in my life". But the friendship may not even exist anymore......the landscape has changed.
There have been a few major moments in my life where the relationships I had carried the day. With few exceptions the relationships are marginal at best these days....facebook friends maybe. Strange how that happens, even within a few years. Things change, people change. The landmarks are still there and point to something in our past, to relationships that somehow helped guide us home.