Liam’s Story – Planning The Walk

Introduction:

I’m sorry, but I am not a good writer. I don’t know much about proper formatting for literature. But I wrote this story as best as i could.

I asked my grandson if he would like me to write him a story for Christmas? He nodded a big yes with a huge smile.

“How many pages would you like it to be?”, I asked.

He held up one finger.

“One page?”

Then his hand slide up two more fingers to indicate three.

“Oh, three pages then?”, I inquire.

Then all five fingers where up.

“Five Pages then. A five page story from Grampy it is.”

This story is loosely based on an actual conversation we had one day,.

Planning The Walk

By Andy (Grampy) Rayner

It was to be another ordinary walk, or so he thought at the time.

An ordinary walk is what he suggested, or thought he was suggesting, anyway.

But small boys can get confused very easy sometimes. Now that he thinks about it, years later, he certainly did not know what kind of walk he was imagining.

But the plan was certainly much better than the one he thought he thought of.

Monty was still a very young boy. One could never really say how old he was at the time. All Monty knows for sure, is that it was long before the years of going to school.

Monty often took walks in the forest with his grandfather. His granddad always walked confidently through the forest. His granddad was often stopping and looking back waiting for everyone. Monty’s short legs were always trying to keep up.

Why his grandfathers legs were as tall as Monty’s head, while Monty’s legs were just three or four apples tall. Well maybe two apples and one banana tall. Yes, this is exactly how long my legs are, Monty decided that day.

Granddad did not walk faster because he was impatient, or because he was older and taller. Rather, granddad walked faster through the forest because of his familiarly with how to move through a wilderness. He had a hare’s swiftness, bred from a kind familiarity, you see.

It was apparent to me that grandfather never realized how swiftly and sure-footedly he could navigate the forest floor. He dodged fallen trees, stumps, or rocks as easily as eating cereal with a spoon. He had an experienced eye, I think best says it.

Monty often fell behind but would see his granddad stopped ahead looking back to assure he was doing well, and give him a little time to catch up. But grandfather never seemed to grow impatient with me as he waited.

“Being in the forest is not a race to get out the other side.”, he would say to me.

“The one who exits the forest last, wins!”, he would often remind me.

He explained that this meant the one who remains in the forest the longest gets the greater joy and the most adventures.

“The most beautiful and ornate communion table, as fine as any you will see in any church, is a tree stump, don’t you see?”, he would say on Sundays. If Monty was lucky enough to walk with him on Sunday Monty often enough saw his granddad take communion on a stump. There, also, he often shared it with me when I was much older.

However, that is another story for another day.

But I pause here to tell you something you may have not guessed – I am Monty -, I am the writer of this story. I am no longer a small boy, but I remember the day we planned our walk, and wish to share it with you.

It was only a few weeks before Christmas and we were visiting my grandfather’s house. I was looking out the window at the snowy woods and I told my grandfather that I wanted to plan a walk for next summer. A walk after this snow is gone away,

“Oooohhhhh?” My grandfather said. Well, it was more like a sound than an actual uttered word, as he peeked from behind his book. My grandfather was not only at ease in the forest, he was at ease in a book printed on the same fibers his forest provided.

I remember him taking a magnifying glass one time and saying, “See, Monty; can you see the wood fibers laid down in random directions to make this paper, the paper that was used to make this book?”

And by golly, I could see the wood fibers through the magnifying glass. As a small boy I had never noticed them before, I never thought to look at a piece of paper so closely before. Then I realized I could see them with my naked eye too. Well, if I squinted one eye up real good, and looked really intent like.

That day I learned a life lesson, one I remembered to this day. Take a closer look at things!

I recall granddad saying another time, “Sometimes we can only see things after others point them out. They have eyes that see what we have not seen. Not that their eyes are any different than yours Monty. Its just their mind makes them look at thing we don’t think to look at”

Now back to what I said to my grandfather as I looked at his snowy woods through the window.

“Yes, grandfather, when this snow is gone and the grass is green we need to go for a walk in the woods.”

Looking puzzled he said in a questioning tone, “You realize that we don’t have to wait for summer to enjoy the forest, don’t you Monty?”

“Yes, I know.” I remember saying to him.

But I do not recall why I was thinking we had to wait for summer to walk. I was still a small boy after all. Who knows what goes through a small boys head anyway? Why, even the small boy himself doesn’t always know sometimes, Why, we had walked a trail in the snow just the week before.

“We could just as easily take an adventure in the winter too. Why, we could even take this “forest-ey”, walking adventure before Christmas, could we not?, he said in a low inquisitive tone.

I could tell he was testing me. In just a few short words granddad had an innocent way of prying anyone, just to see how far their thinking really went. He was not so willing, nor in much of a hurry, to let me delay such good ideas until next summer. Especially the idea of an adventure walk in the forest – before Christmas.

“But the snow! And it’s cold outside.” I said.

Not really meaning it as an excuse at all. It sounded more like I just wanted to have something to say, you know, to carry on the conversation, for the conversations sake, like little boys do sometimes. They say things just to enjoy the interaction is all, because they don’t want it to stop, and they don’t really mean nothing by everything they say.

However, if cold and snow came across as an excuse, my grandfather was certainly going to have nothing to do with it, that’s for sure.

“We could hike in the snow also; and why not?” he said from behind his book again.

But before he finished his sentence he had already moved his book ever so slightly to one side where I could see just the edge of one eye, and enough of the weathered wrinkles around his eye to understand that those wrinkles had risen a little. In a way that made that half-eye glow from behind the edge of his book. That look always warmed me so. And that eye was clearly peeking at me, and expecting some kind of an answer too. No meaningless words, mind you, not that a four year old has many words to choose from anyway.

By now, It was clear to me, that he was no longer reading his story book at all. It sounded to me like he was nudging me into planning for that walk, not just the summer walk, NO, but the winter walk as well, the walk before Christmas.

“You have winter cloths, don’t you boy?”, he asked me

“Yes!”, I said.

“You have mittens?”

“Ahhhh, come on Grammmmmpppyyyyy, Of course I do.” I said.

“You have snow pants, and a hat too? He quizzed me even further.

I nodded a silly smiling yes at his funny questions.

“And boots too?”

By now I had to have something to say, as little boys always do. My mind was spinning with ideas and thoughts, that even I don’t know what they all were.

I finally blustered out, “But sometimes my feet get cold even in my winter boots grampy.”

Though, as soon as I said it, I knew this was not actually the case very often, because I had boot, good boots my mom and dad got for me, boots so good I could play outside for hours and hours in the snow and not get cold. My grandfather knew this and took my words for exactly what I really meant; just something to say, to add to the conversation.

“ We can make it son. I assure you, we can make it. We can pull this off with all the good winter gear we have.” he said in a dramatic voice.

“If you are willing to try?” he quizzed.

I nodded a yes because I was getting a little excited at the idea.

Granddad’s dramatic speech did not stop there. He went on into great details about how we should prepare for this adventure.

When I think back to this conversation, and many others like it, I smile. With age and more understanding, I now see that he was speaking (As he often did) in almost a stage acting voice. As if he was acting a play. And it sure was good acting too, as his rising and then hushed voice drew me into the story. My mind would be filled with images of the forest as he spoke.

Indeed, my grandfather was already making me feel as if we were already out there walking.

I was seeing the birch trees, the spruce cones, moss, fungi, all the different colored wild mushrooms. When we were catching up to granddad, he was often stopped because he was stooped over some wonderful things he wanted me to notice, and take time to examine. The kinds of things he would never let a little boy or girl just walk on by unnoticed, or unexamined.

Granddad startled me out of daydreams as he continued.

“We can do this!. Boy, I am telling you, we can indeed pull this off, (then in a in a very hushed voice, almost a raspy whisper), if we plan just right. Yes, just right!”

He was staring off into space now, thinking it over for a minute or two.

I sat there mesmerized, waiting to hear more, not making a peep, at least for now.

“Why yes (he continued more animated and now, no longer in the hushed tone he left me hanging with), we can venture out into the forest, even in the wind, snow, and cold. We will pull our scarfs up over our noses to break the winds.

The snow……. (he thought for a few seconds), well, I suppose we will have to hold hands as we walk so that we don’t stumble and fall into the deeper snows. We will have to help each other, that is for certain. Why, if by some unfortunate accident we do fall down, and can’t get up in some deep, deep cold snows, the likes of which we have never see before, why, we can flatten ourselves out and roll out of the snow banks, just like a seal or bear might do.

I keep a small rope in my pocket at all times. Did you know that Monty?”

I nodded, no, for I did not know this.

“We can use it to lasso a tree branch, or if we are so lucky, and if need be, a passing fox by the tail, and we will use the rope pull ourselves out from the snow danger.” He said with a twinkle in his eye.

I laughed at the thought of lassoing a fox’s tail. Who ever did that before?

“Feet? Hummm, now what about those cold feet. ”. He was now reflectively rubbing his chin, and my eyes where wide and my eyebrows were pulled very high on my forehead in excitement now. I was anxiously waiting to hear how we might survive cold feet.

My Granddad’s thinking was taking too long for the answer. But I waited for him to continue. While I waited, I was almost shivering, as if my feet and body were already cold from a walk. I felt it, I tell you. Maybe it was grandfathers talk about the wind, scarves, and rolling out of snow banks that it got my mind so fixated on the wilderness that my body was fooled, by my mind, into thinking it was real. It’s sounds silly I suppose. But I was a small boy you know, and boys have a way of mixing things up in their heads sometimes, forgetting where they actually are.

I know this is true because my mom often told me so.

Granddad finally continued again.

“Huuuummmmm! What about those cold feet you worry so much about my grandson?

Why, son, we will do like the old-timers did, many years ago. We will forage natures bountiful supply to survive. We will depend on what nature provides to attend to our needs in a time of great desperation. If necessary, we shall glean and gather the green lichen mosses hanging from the tree branches, and we will dig down to the forest floor at the bases of large trees to find thick wild mosses and we will stuff them into our boots. We will stuff and stuff, and fill up our boots to the top, to help keep our feet warm. We will help ourselves, we will. But we will help each other with the stuffing off the mosses also.

You will help me stuff my boots, and I will help you stuff yours boots when you get tired. Sound good?” he asked

I nodded yes. But I was amazed at the thought of doing this and it made me laugh. My grandfather smiled back at me saying nothing. Leaving my mind to mull the moss stuffing over and over in my mind a while, so that the idea could blossom in my mind’s eye. He knew I was see it. Not seeing it like I see something in front of me, but see it in my mind’s eye, like it was real. Know what I mean? It’s hard for small boys to explain such things.

Then I blurted out, “What if snow falls on our heads? What will we do?”

I don’t know!”, he said

“ What do you think we will do?”, he asked.

I though for a minute.

“I can bring my mom’s umbrella”, I offered.

“An umbrella will protect our heads from the snow, won’t it?, I asked.

“It could, it could work for the whole walk.” He said.

“Or it might help for just a short time. Why, what if the umbrella pops in the blustery winds boy? What will we do then?”, he asked in a high pitched inquisitive tone. as he leaned in close, waiting for an answer.

“Aw, you can’t pop an umbrella.” I said jovially, but dismissively

“It can! I tell you, an umbrella can pop!. You can never count on an umbrella son. Never! When an umbrella does POP (He said POPS rather loudly and it startled me), it is sure to be of no more use to us then. Then what will we do? “ he asked

I remember being startled at the thought that the wind could pop an umbrella. I wasn’t even sure what granddad meant by “pop and umbrella”. But is sure didn’t sound good, and what is clear is that a popped umbrella was going to do us no good in the end, that’s for sure.

“What do you think we will should do grampy?” I asked.

“We will use our whits boy!” (He tapped his index finger on his temple several times).

“If we remember to always look up in a forest son, not only down, we should get along just fine I think. Keep in mind son, the forest has six directions, and everyone, be it a summer walk or a winter walk, needs to make it a habit to be looking in all six directions as often as they can. Especially if it is a place they have never been,

You see, some people stomp though the forest like there are two directions, I tell ya.

Only two directions many people look. Looking forward and down, hardly a glancing any other way. They walk forward, with their head down, and walk so fast to get somewhere they don’t have to be at so quickly, or maybe getting to somewhere they really don’t want to be later in the day, and they end up seeing nothing in between . Never make that mistake Son. Remember, the last one out of the forest wins.”, he explained.

I nod my head in agreement.

“Oh sure, they sometimes look around, but not as much as they should. We will not make that mistake on this wintery walk. And what are those six directions son?” he asks with up turned, questioning eyebrows.

I draw a blank and say nothing.

“Ok, here is how it is. Let’s count them on our fingers. The Six directions we should be looking.”

(He held up his hands, and I did the same and we counted a finger for each thing he said until we both had six fingers in the air.)

There is North South, East and West, up and down. Sometimes small boys like you can’t tell where North, South, East or West is. But that doesn’t matter when you are with me at your age. I’ll teach you how to figure that out next year, when you are a little older.

But let me put it this way, so it is easy for you to remember. Remember it this way. Always look in the Front, back, side to side, (both sides mind you), and up and down.

There are a lot of things you can see in each of these directions, and lots of things you should see in those directions, and it might save your life on a walk some day, Monty.

Up in those trees there can be snow, chunks of ice, or broken tree branches that can fall on your head. And, what is certain is that no umbrella, a popped umbrella or not, is going to do you much good to protect your head in these conditions.

To protect your head in the forest you use your eyes. Look up and if you see broken branches, or branches with heavy snow or ice that could fall on you, what should you do son?” he asked

I think a little, and offer, sleeply, “Don’t walk there?

“Yes, that is exactly right boy. Don’t walk there.

Certainly don’t stop there. No standing around in such dangerous circumstances. It doesn’t mean you have to end your walk, it means walk around that danger , and continue on your walk.

However, if you are in a forest in a snow storm when ALL the trees branches are heavy with snow and ice, where are you going to walk if you can’t get around the tightly packed trees in a thick forest that has branches over your head everywhere?

“I don’t know grampy!” I say a little concerned but sleepily because I had a busy day with all the playin that had to be done. And I did all the playin I could get done that day.

I was now sitting in my grandfather lap relaxing as he talked. Just as excited, but getting too sleepy to figure out any more plans for our big walk, not a walk for next summer, but a winter walk, soon, before Christmas.

I kept listening as I yawned again and again. I envisioned I was turning my sleepy head to see the forest in all six directions – Turning my head up and down, side to side (both sides mind you), front and back. But my head was not really turning at all, though I didn’t know it. I was too sleepy to really move my head now. I was just dreaming I was doing it.

“You stick to the bases of the trees. The tree trunk is your friend in this kind of weather my boy. Stick close to the tree trunks like glue. Hug it like you hug your mom, or your grammy. And don’t you lollygag when walking from tree trunk to tree trunk, the spaces in between the trees are what will get you in a heavy snow or ice storms, and keep lookup up, for heaven’s sake, don’t forget to look up, so that you can see the dangers and make wise moves, and best to get out of the woods in weather like that.

You see son, when snow, ice, or a broken branches fall, they usually fall a little further out away from the tree trunks. So, stick close to the trunks of the trees, that is what we will do, and this will really up our odds of being safe on this winter walk.” He said

“Now let’s flex our fingers to get them strong, do both hands mind you. Flex them open and closed, right wide like, spread our finger like this, and then squeeze them down into a fist like this. This will get our fingers ready and strong for stuffing our boots with mosses and lichens if we have to.”

He demonstrates the motions with both hands, but I sleepily hold up only one hand, and can only do a few faint flexing motions with my hand and finger, because my eyes closed, unable to keep them open again. My arm drops to sleep. From behind these closed eyes I could no longer hold open, I faintly make out a few last words before my ears stopped working too.

I can’t be sure exactly what grampy said, you know, as I was done, tuckered out, and I knew it. But my granddad’s words now sounded like a song. Well, as I think about all these years later, to my best recollection, maybe his words sounded more like a poem. I don’t know which it was for sure, a song or a poem. Was I imagining it? Or did I really hear some music or poetry like,

We will make memories son,

That is what we will do

We will learn about God’s amazing creation

And how to take care of it too.

A Summer walk was such a fine suggestion

But a winter walk, well that too is like heaven.

Please don’t be disappointed in my story.

We didn’t walk that day, you see. That wasn’t this story, though I could write many such stories about walks with my grandad.

This story was not about our walks, it was about planning a walk.

And plan the walk we did, with glee, and I think of it every time I see moss or lichens hanging from a tree.

I have never needed to stuff mosses in my boots to keep my feet from freezing, but I am sure to give it a try if ever I find myself in danger.

To this day, I remember these words when walking in the forest; “Always look front, and back, side to side (both sides mind you), and up and down.”

“Being in the forest is not a race to get out the other side. The one who exits the forest last, wins,”

THE END

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