Our wave good-bye was slow in coming and slow in being done, but with the final turn away, as I was about to hoist my pack upon my back, I remembered the burly sweater. "Miss Willow. Your sweater."
She waved back and with a graceful bowing gesture, she called to me, "My gift to you, young pilgrim. May it keep you warm forever."
I found my heart strangely saddened as I felt the leaving behind of three souls I had only known for a thousand moments or more: Miss Willow, the Padre, and maybe most of all, Blue-Eyes. How could souls become so close so quickly? Grandfather told me that it does happen when open hearts meet each other.
We took the other trail than the other trail the one to the Cannon Field. It turned left and down and into the thick, spruce woods, a woods so thick that the branches brushed against us as we journeyed through, dusting us with snow and the scent of evergreen. The woods thickened more and more until I could see no more trail to follow, but Granddad pressed on further still.
As the afternoon sun began to age into the late of day, the woods began to thin, the solid woods became stands of trees, then trees every now and then. We came upon a fence, a neatly carpentered fence of black-tar painted boards. A farm fence that enclosed in staggering scale, a farm, more likely a ranch I began to believe. Beneath the acres of snow, I could picture pasture after pasture filled with mares and colts in the romp of early Spring or filled with black and furry Angus cattle in the green of Summer or filled with stacks of hay in the deep gold of Autumn. But now it was but a rolling blanket of pure white snow quilted with the thread of lines of black tar fence. In the midst of the fleecy winter snowscape, a manor house was placed, perfectly within the center of the squares, at the end of a long, long drive lined with now barren oak trees forming a formal rose-less arbor, trying to shade the drive with no shade let to give.
Without one pause, we climbed the fence right at the point that we came upon the fence. Then made the long trek through virgin snow, across one pasture, two, then three, until we came upon the snow where the manor's backyard would ought to be. There were no cattle; there were no colts; there were only crows, a dozen crows patrolling here and there around the place, searching for scraps left by still unnoticed life.
We made a way around the house, a broad square of a house, two stories high and an attic above, a white clapboard house with black shutters and gingerbread trim along the eaves. Here and there, brickwork could be seen, fireplaces on three sides, on all four corners, sturdy, square columns anchored the house into the earth. The front yard had a wooden swing set, one of those gliders where people sat face to face, sliding back and forth. The glider was still and empty. Across from the glider, a scale model of the manor house was perched up on three white wooden poles, the largest martin house I think I had ever seen. It too was still and empty, the martins all gone to someplace else. We stepped up the broad grey steps that brought us up and onto the wide and broad porch. I would say the widest and broadest I had ever stood upon, except maybe at one of those grand hotels we once visited on an island called Mackinaw. On the porch sat six empty rocking chairs. Eerily, two of them were slowly, subtly rocking, from the wind I was hoping.
Granddad yelled, "Is anybody home?" The answer was an echo from the emptiness. As we stood there, the loneliness began to overtake me. Have you ever noticed how loneliness is cold in its nature? I was thankful that I had the warmth of Miss Willow's wool to comfort me for it was very cold and barren there.