The Oak Leaf

Hiking up Crawford’s Mountain was more difficult than I had anticipated. An 1800’ elevation gain in a two mile stretch; it did not seem that significant when I had unfolded the topographic map. Then again, I had not studied the closeness of the contour lines, giving them only a cursory glance. After all, I was going hiking amidst autumn’s magnificent foliage here in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and the mere detail of walking up the side of the mount wasn’t going to interfere!

We seem to use the word ‘awesome’ in such lethargic fashion. Similar I suppose to terms such as ‘nice’ or ‘friend’ and most importantly, ‘love’, because each of these, when used appropriately, will always convey the hearts’ truest feeling. And so it fit that such a description surely applied. For there below me at 4200’ above sea level, lay a vista that all at the same moment was breathtaking, timeless, and humbling. A gift of grace for those having the vision to really see it. A treasure unequalled when understood that you never ‘see’ such stately grandeur with your eyes; much as one cannot hear with their ears, or taste with the mouth. These things are the domain of the Soul, for the eyes only allow passage to a deeper aspect of one’s’ being. After all, with eyes closed, is not the image of summer’s whitest cloud as absolute and vivid as when lying along the edge of the Ocean? And can you not ‘hear’ the sound of the Sea when the shell is cupped closely to your ear? Surely then, the lover’s kiss, of saline sweetness, is only tasted when guided by the heart itself for no other kiss is nearly the same.

I moved slowly up the side of the granite face carved long ago by an icy tide which shaped the land as it now lay. As I walked, I smiled in recalling once I was ‘insulted’ for not moving my feelings at a swift enough pace to meet the expectations of a former lover. A “glacier”, I was chided as being. My chilled breath swirled about me as I realized the perfection of that misguided barb A glacier; perhaps? Yet a glacier, though it grinds ever so slowly, once it does so over the landscape, nothing remains as it was. And so it seemed to me, that the Spirit, which is All things, had moved its’ hand and reshaped me much the same way. I stood still and gave thanks to things I could never comprehend.

The Northeast Zephyr began to blow harder and announced its’ presence causing the trees to speak an ancient language. Each, the Hemlock, Pine and Oak, all made to sound with their distinct voice as the wind played through their varied leaves. Yes, A perfect language. Understood by all living things throughout the ages, as beautiful as it is clear, it carries a message for any who would listen and feel it. The voice carried on the wind, I could only begin to understand it as I strained upwards over the rocky terrain. It began to speak to me as well. Soothing and wise, I could not help but hear it as it brought me great comfort. It was a needed message, for as I trekked, I found myself reviewing the course of my own life’s travel, it too, strewn with boulders disguised as choices along the way and once walked, impossible to retrace. I found myself lamenting opportunities squandered and saddened for those who had journeyed with me awhile and I had lost along the way. I began to cry. With all I had done, with all my soul searching, at this moment, I was still so very lost.

There are moments in time which simply happen. I will never have the wisdom to know if they are real or imagined for who of us can be certain which is which? That too, I surmise, is also the domain of Spirit. Mortal senses are not meant to decide the difference. Only a man’s foolish arrogance would argue the point. That being said, I could never comprehend what next occurred. With this effort to put it to paper, only if it is read with the heart, and not the mind, could its message be understood. This was such a moment.

The afternoon was cloudy and the branches of the evergreens were heavy, bowed deeply by the morning’s rain. Perhaps because I wanted it to be so, I felt it matched my growing melancholy. My heart hurt for the weight it carried. Suddenly, a solitary beam, a single ray from a brief moment of Sun light, found its way through the canopy above and its light struck a single red Oak leaf that lay isolated on the trail. How can one describe that which cannot be described? For as I stared at it, I am certain it spoke to me! A rock along the path, I had not noticed it at first, offered itself to me and I sat. This is what I heard.

“Rest awhile my brother for I sense your weariness and heavy heart. Rest, and listen to what I may offer you. What is it you see before you? A dead leaf from this Oak beside you? No. That is not what I am. Truly I was on-high. Insects ate of my flesh so as to get their sustenance just as the birds nestled amongst me and my kind for shelter. So too, many are the traveler’s such as yourself who rested beneath my body to refresh themselves before going on their way.

I have taken that which pollutes the Earth and returned to our Great Mother the air which provides so much. Now, I lie upon the ground and to those who don’t understand, I appear lifeless; purpose served. Many would believe I am no longer what I once was and therein lies the greatest of secrets. Do not be anymore sad for my lying here as you would be for those people you have known or paths you chose not to tread. I am what I was meant to be just as before, a bit of God’s universe. As I lie here, I become the soil which births the living forest. Insects continue to share my body so as to continue the chain of life for all creatures. Even my color provides beauty for your spirit so it may rejoice and renew itself once again. And when my form is no longer visible, I will remain alive in all that follows, for that…is my purpose.

So it is with you, dearest child. Take heart that the things you are will always be shared by many. The feelings felt, the moments so precious, all were meant to sustain you and give sustenance to others. And when you pass from the tree which is this life, the ground on which others tread, surely what they are and will become, is because of who you are and always will be, even when you return to our Great Mother.”

Back home, I frequently reflect on my experience on Crawford’s Mountain. I must always remember that which was revealed to me.

The best and only gift you can ever give is that of yourself.

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