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I’ve been thinking for some time it’s been too long since I saw my neighbor and one of these days I needed to go knock on his door with muffins or homemade soup. At 91, he has had some heart health issues this fall. I’ve been concerned, I check in with his daughter now and then, but I’ve not rung his doorbell for a while. You know how it is, best intentions.

I’ve been thinking for some time it’s been too long since I walked in the woods. How many times have I promised myself to get in there at least once a week? You know how it is, best intentions.

After Thanksgiving weekend with the Littles and their moms here at Three of Earth Farm, I didn’t go to Seattle for my weekly 30 hour gig away from home―including five hours driving time―and by Tuesday it already felt like I had an expanse of time not usually available. When the rain stopped and the sun unexpectedly came out, I went out in my orange rain boots to check on the supply of firewood left to lie in the woods near the house when the man I hired to cut and split a fallen tree just stopped working on it.

After seeing there is indeed still a lot of wood scattered about that’s small enough for burning if I pull it out from under branches and blackberry vines and wheelbarrow it down the trail to the rack where the supply is rapidly diminishing, I spontaneously head across the meadow to the trail by the barn to walk in my mother’s playground. She didn’t hike in the mountains like I do, but hour for hour, she spent far more time on the trail than I.

Reaching the main trail, I see Robert coming toward me. He has walked the trails most every day for years, but for the past several months I was thinking he wasn’t able to. I’m ecstatic to see him out and about again. His dog Gracie trots down the trail toward me. I’m not a dog lover, but I am very fond of Gracie. I put my arms around her broad neck and pull her in close; then give Robert a hug when he reaches us.

We stand on the trail and talk. I have no where else to be and nothing else I need to be doing that is more important than this. Robert had emailed me a month or two ago that he had discovered an apple tree on the trail he’d never noticed before; spotted it because it bore a single apple. I haven’t figured out where it is and I ask him now. Turns out we are standing under it. It’s spindly and unformed, imitating the miles of vine maple in these woods. No wonder no one noticed it. It’s near where there were remnants of a rotting ancient puncheon road when I was a child, the boards that kept the wagon wheels from sinking into mud on alleged cattle drives through here, returned to soil now.

Robert muses that a wagon driver—or maybe a child sitting on the back, legs dangling—threw an apple core out and a seed took hold. The single apple was good, he says, maybe a Gravenstein.

We go on to reminisce about our former neighbors. The Holits were a  German couple, still with thick accents even after decades in the States. I told Robert I remembered making fudge with Margaret at Christmas, standing on a stool in front of her stove stirring the bubbling chocolate. When their house was cleaned out, after they moved to California to live near their son, I happened to be home and acquired the spoon we used to stir the fudge, it’s end worn down from years of scraping the bottom of the hot pot. He tells me, when the home sat empty for a time, he found a box of silverware overlooked on top of a beam in the basement; and later a box of sample awards ribbons from, presumably, Gene’s father’s family business in Germany before WWI in a dark corner, and something (I’ve forgotten what) with the Kaiser’s picture on it.

Robert remembers helping Gene cross the steeply sloping road to get his mail out of the box. Paying it forward, as it turns out, he says, as now the Holit’s niece, who raised her children in her aunt and uncle’s house, brings Robert his mail. (I really need to get my newly purchased mailbox painted and back in its rightful place between theirs.) We’re silent for a moment then, remembering times and people who are gone.

He tells me another maple tree fell recently behind his house. These damp woods that were my childhood playground are so old. The big leaf maples are nearing the end of their long lives, their grey crowns broken and leafless. They are host to mosses and licorice fern, adding to the rain forest feel of these woods. Lichen clings to everything, making the forest look like a host of hoary old men.

Centralia from Staebler Point, named for my parents for their conservation work here.

I go on to Staebler Point, and Robert and Gracie continue their trek home. I turn back toward the house as the clouds drop into the trees, rendering the forest mysterious and a little spooky in the mist. As I walk back through the now empty arching vine maples where we had stood talking, I realize that, like my mother and father and the Holits and Robert’s wife Sandy, someday Robert will no longer grace these woods with his presence. Like the maples, we all come to the end.

The woods without Robert.
Fallen maple tangle.

I’m hanging up my coat as the earlier rains return, pouring onto the roof I need to clean off again. Just a pocket of time, snatched for a rendezvous in the woods with a neighbor. I vow—again—to stop by more often, and hope I run into Robert and Gracie.

I found this poem when I Googled big leaf maple (acer macrophyllum). Overlooking the exclusive language, it seems a serendipitous find.

A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds.
A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy
reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.
                                                                  – Basil