Photo Credit: Marc Perrault

Trust wasn’t the lesson I was expecting when my partner planned a surprise anniversary weekend away. Seventeen years later, we returned to the Cypress Hills where we stayed as newlyweds. The lodgepole pines appear not to have changed as much as we have.

I have confessed my allergy to nature before. The condo style room in the park in early May is a better fit than we knew all those years ago. It is still cold enough that my skin doesn’t itch from the heat and there aren’t enough fires or leaves to make my nose and lungs revolt. Marc had plenty of beauty to capture with the camera, though the clouds sadly covered the stars. There was great scenery for knitting and playing board games.

And there were trails for hiking. This isn’t a first choice of activity for either of us, but the park was quiet, still melting away the final patches of snow and silently awaiting the summer crowds. I was trusting that something different would be good.

At the entrance to our most challenging trail choice, I laughed out loud at the warning to watch for cougars. “It would be a great irony,” I said, smiling at Marc, “if I died in a wildlife attack on a hiking trail.” He agreed. I can definitely count on my fingers the number of trails I’ve attempted in my life, and most have only had the danger of my tripping over my own feet.

I became breathless on the climbs and focused on my footing on the declines. Seventeen years has given way to comfortable silences and conversation that stops and starts through two decades of memories. The lodgepole pines towered above us, shrinking the significance of our years together.

I stared up at the trees, a green canopy meters above us, with only old dead remnants of the branches near the ground. The younger trees, green and spindly, stretching up to compete for the sunlight. Hard pinecones forming on the undersides of the older trees, dropping to the ground to wait for a fire to break them open.

The forest floor is a mess. Dropped pine needles, interrupted with deer droppings. Broken branches and fallen trees from the windstorm days before, layered on the trunks from seasons past. Grass and leaves and tiny flowers breaking though wherever enough light and water allows.

“What are you thinking about?” Marc asked in one of the long flat sections. “About how the trees grow up and discard the parts of themselves they don’t need anymore,” I breathed. “About how messy growth is. And how I simultaneously am embarrassed by my younger self and grieve when she goes. I like how the trees grow and make me more patient with my own growth.”

I am in the awkward stages of early middle age, still having so much yet to do and knowing in ways my younger self couldn’t how much effort and perseverance and suffering it takes to build with love. Now, I am ready to let go of the mirror’s distortions as I care more about who I become and who I love well than how I look while I do it.

And it is the forest, rather than a single tree that leads to the trusting. Together, the trees make shade. The wind blows through them to make the gentle creak of their swaying, a constant whisper that assures us we are not alone. Together, they rise and fall. They drop the seeds of their growth so more trees will follow them. The next generation of forest will rise out of this one, exactly as it is, in all its glorious imperfection.

Near the end, I was surprised by a tree suspended vertically, its broken trunk hanging just above my knees. It fell nearly forty feet, suspended in the branches of a younger tree beneath it. “There you are,” I whispered to my sister, the maid of honour who left us just before year twelve. Creation carries the living and the dead, the dreams already realized and the ones to big to see just yet.

This place we are in right now is exactly the place from which we will become what we will be. If the dream is to be realized, it will rise out of what is now. The only thing to do is to be brave enough to take the next step, and the next one. Sometimes the path is clear, and sometimes we will forge our own.

The years pass so quickly and the moments matter so much. May we let go of the branches that no longer serve us. May we be nourishment to the creatures that rely on us for food, for love, for play. May our brokenness and our strength offer hope and healing where it is needed. May we never stop trusting that what is now will be the path to where we need to go. Amen.   

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