A week ago after church I took the two children still young enough to care up above the property line to the edge of the old dairy above the house. The line in the woods is stark with an oak meadow on one side and Doug firs on the other. The oaks sit on a small rise giving a view across this last tail end of the Willamette and the sky is clear, the light long in the late afternoon. We follow paths in the grass and identify signs of other’s passing. A giant still pungent bear scat sits in one.
The bear, a giant bruin is sort of a local celebrity of the local trail cams; he frequents the forest above our ribbon of civilization but stays out of people’s backyards, preferring the checkerboard of timberlands that stretch across the Cascades behind me where there is one town , Oakridge, between my backyard and Highway 97 that runs on the far side of the range a hundred miles away. Even that is not much for beyond it lies the vast, beautiful sagebrush of the high Lava Plains to the Blue Mountains, the beloved lost homeland of the Nez Pierce; like the Black Hills of the Lakota stolen for gold and then discarded. A careful introvert could walk from here to Salt Lake City and never meet another person.
Today though the lessons are small and close; how to tell your way in the woods and what landmarks are important to remember. The sun is unseasonably warm and fragile as old lace; setting far to the south and sooner every day. It is not yet winter in fact but on the teetering edge of it. Soon the rains will come and our small vernal waterfall will cascade again, the grass will green and the sheep fatten. Today though time seems to pause and the youngest two are young and don’t even argue, well not much anyway.
Six and ten are also fragile ages; soon enough they will be different but the same; older versions of who they are now but forever altered. It is not that today is really any different than another in this fact; but in the quiet it is more palpable; the late autumn is the color pallet of the transience of existence and it smells of dry cool air, sounds of feet through leaves and the taste is bittersweet.
With the sun a mere handbreadth of the Coast Range we walk back down the hill and through the fences to the house. Each place has a name; Where we got the Christmas tree or The path to the hole in the fence. Other families have come and gone here an there names are lost to time; the children grown and even their children now. Someday all this too will be gone; today though the veil is thin and the endlessness of childhood is visible to the naked adult eye. I hang back on the walk down and let them just be in the woods, to talk and point and laugh at the dogs. Childhood seems forever to children but every grown up knows it is just a chapter in a long book and adulthood is long, to let them linger in it is the greatest gift a parent can give.