The washed out ruts in the lane were so deep we could barely drive through, even in our beastly Suburban. The truck swayed and groaned, but we made it to the first turn, parked, and got out. But even harder to work through were the memories, hanging from the trees like Spanish moss.
The August day was warm but not overbearing, and we hiked along an overgrown path, carrying our things: a tent, sleeping bags, food. We cleared a space in the trees, built a ring of rocks for our fire, pitched the tent. Sam ran off to “hunt” while Abra and I cleared up the campsite, set up our chairs, and hunted for walking sticks.
When Sam came back, the three of us walked back out to the stone lane and down the hill towards the house. There, off in the trees, was where I had first learned to tap maple trees for sap. There, buried under vines and thorns, was the massive oak tree that fell the year we lived here. There, just off the lane, was where the buck had walked beside me one day when I came back in with the mail.
We lived in that cabin in the woods for 14 months in 2013 and 2014, five years ago. Before Leo. Before Poppy. It was a quiet time of life, when we lived 45 minutes from our closest friends and family, 20 minutes from the grocery store. When I worked every day in small second-floor office and the girls slept in the basement and I spent late summer days cutting down dead trees and splitting the wood, preparing for winter.
It was a beautiful, wonderful time. So why, walking down the lane with our two middle children, did I feel such a weight of sadness, such a deep-reaching sense of melancholy?
* * * * *
We walked down behind the cabin, then back up the far hill, following the sweeping path into the woods and around a long circle, back to where we started. We ate hot dogs cooked over the fire and gooey smores and shared a gallon jug of water. Soon, the light was fading, the sun setting somewhere in the west. We sat in our chairs and watched the fire lick the air. We told old stories of when we used to live in that cabin. A blanket of smoke from the wet wood hung around us.
We made our way into the tent, me in the middle sleeping bag, and I read them the first few chapters from The Book of Three. Taran’s pig ran into the woods, and we closed the book, and the woods grew dark. But then the moon rose, so bright it cast tree shadows onto the roof of our tent, and we fell asleep early with dogs barking far in the distance.
* * * * *
What is it about going back to good places that brings sadness to the surface? Is it simply a longing for good times past? Is it the sneaking realization that the rest of life will go just as fast?
For me, I think it was the feeling that those woods, that lane, that cabin, they didn’t remember us. We were strangers there, in a place where we had once been so intimate. And it made me realize that someday all the places I love will not remember me.
But in the midst of this sadness was another realization – today is everything. Today is all we have. I have to hug my children while I can, read to them while I’m able, make memories in these current places so that someday they can come back, they can relive the old days, and they can be reminded that time is fleeting.
This is the gift of time, the gift of memories, the gift of revisiting places that hold meaning for us.