"You have to listen for the old man in the oak," my grandfather solemnly almost religiously whispered to me. "Listen. Hear the old man groan?"
I nodded, more out of the hope that I had heard him groan than because I actually had.
"If you listen, he'll tell you what's been going on down here by the river, in the lazy of the day or in the prowl of the night. But you have to listen ... listen deep, listen long, listen slow."
I had to ask, though I tried not to ask, "What does the old man say?"
"Different things to different souls. I am not sure what the old man says to other folks, but to me, he lets me in on the secrets of the way things are and the way things could be, would be and ought to be. For oak trees, there is no might be about life, that's for souls like you and me who live out here, in the walkabout world. For oak trees, life simply happens; for us walk-abouters, life is created."
"Oh," I said, hoping that all his words would begin to make sense when they all had settled in my remembering place. But for now, I just kept listening with my ear leaning toward the grizzly, gray bark of this magical tree.
As my grandfather recounted his recollections of his conversations with the old man in the oak, I began to realize that he was not spinning yarns from the fancy of his imaginations, he was letting me in on the secret that he had come upon a long time ago, down here by the river, by the river that had always flowed.
And as my grandfather's voice strolled me further and further into the distant realms, I could begin to hear the old man in the oak, quietly at first, like the sound the wind makes when it freshens to life through the tops of the pines. Muffled, at first, then a little closer, a little clearer, until the old man's voice emerged from the oak, to enwrap us with the sound that smells like the smoke of an October fire.
"Boy, where have you been? Boy, where have you been?" At first, I thought he must have been talking to me. ... but he wasn't.