I thought, "Why would this one oak be the only oak around? Was this the last oak let after all the other oaks had gone? Or was it the first oak, an acorn who was somehow left in this treeless field of barley, an outcast from the maple woods not far away? Or was this the only oak that would ever be?"
But as I neared the sprawling oak, beneath my feet the answer did come to be known. Hundreds and hundreds of acorns trying with all they had to gain a foothold on this earth. As long as oak trees make acorns, they live a life of hope. And it was as I about to step within the shadow of the great tree that I found a good number of oak trees in their infancy, growing, readying themselves for their time on this earth and in this sky.
All around my ankles stood a forest in the making, an oak tree forest ready to settle this field of barley and make it something more than it was before. For reasons I could not even begin to understand, these little oaks caused a certain joy to rise up within my soul. But the joy began to falter within me as the awareness of my grandfather's absence returned. The sadness and the fear began to surge once more. Then behind the trunk of the oak, the voice of that playful lad came forth. "It took you long enough to find me."
I shouted, "Come out and show ourself."
First a hand and then what followed flooded amazement into me. My Grandfather appeared from behind the oak, from where the young boy's voice had come.
He said with no further comment, "We best be moving on. We have dallied far too long. Before night fall, we must climb the auburn hills and take shelter this night in the long, long bridge."
I asked him about the little boy who played hide and seek within the barley. Granddad's only answer was, "Yes, I know, I know that lad well. He's always loved to play among the grain before the harvest came and took it all away."
That lad was Granddad, I just knew it was. I just didn't know how.
The wa ahead was the beginning of a gentle slope as the hills began to come. They were not tiring hills demanding our labored breath. But hills that gradually came to life beneath our feet. And as the lowly hills began to roll, the auburn of them began to deepen as the sun matured in its day. And in the last light, the first twilight, they began to show their September dress of rusting green and their fade to gold.
The first darkness brought us to the bridge, the long, long bridge. It made itself known by lanterns hanging at its entrance. And their light had once more that ancient light that I've come to know so well in these recent miles beyond the frozen river.