A Walk in the Woods

We spent a lovely, peaceful New Year’s at the cottage in the Leelanau peninsula, for my money one of the prettiest places on earth. Alyssa and I had arrived first and taken a hike of the Leelanau Conservancy Clay Cliffs trail. It was slippery in places, but the walk through the meadow and the view of Lake Michigan from the cliffs were spectacular. Tom and I had made the same trek when the trail first opened and had little or no signage. We somehow completely missed the viewing platform at the actual cliffs and laughed like crazy later thinking we had been so dense. We went back another time and basked in the view.

He and I had also long ago taken another Conservancy trail, Houdek Dunes, that I remembered as kind of nothing burger, but the book I just bought about hikes along M-22 said some nice things so I was determined to give it another chance. I knew it did not go to the lake, but the book spoke of nice elevated views and lovely birches and pines. I extracted commitments from Alyssa and my sister to make the trek with me, but on the day after New Year’s when the sun was out, John had headed home and Franny was still sleeping, the group enthusiasm waned. I was not in my usual uber bossy/guilt-inducing mood so I decided to set out alone. I took my phone and two old walking sticks we’ve had in a closet forever but hardly used.

There were no other cars in the parking lot which gave me a moment’s pause, but I remembered that I had my phone and could always call if disaster befell me. I was properly bundled, had on the Sorrel boots that Tom had bought me and I was determined to do the entire 2.9 miles if things went well.

The trail was as advertised, peaceful with lovely trees and a path that was navigable despite lots of ups and downs. It was only icy in a few spots. I walked carefully and was glad to have my walking sticks for support on a few descents, but in general the trek was uneventful. The sun was out for quite a while and I finally had to unzip my coat as my layers were doing too good a job of holding heat in. There were several crossover points where I could’ve shortened the route and I was tempted at the last one as the sign warned that the loop ahead was “difficult”, but the stubborn Scot in me said “In for a penny, in for a pound” so on I went. It was a little longer and more arduous than I had expected, but by the end I was very glad I had seen it through.

The entire time I walked I never felt alone. There was not another soul on the path, but I had the strangest sense that Tom was right beside me. I took the opportunity to talk to him a little. To remind him how much I loved him. To thank him for introducing me to hiking and a love of the outdoors in all seasons. I’m sure he already knew I would never ever have made such a hike before I met him, but I reminded him of that also and thanked him for the sunshine, which he was famous for carrying with him like a pocket knife.

I also talked to him a little about John. I already know he would not want me to be alone and that he would recognize the good heart that John possesses and be glad of the kindness and love he shows me. Still, it is a little strange to continue to love someone so powerfully, to long for their daily presence while simultaneously forging a loving relationship with someone new. I know there is nothing unusual about this and that people who lose loved ones do it all the time—or don’t, choosing instead to live alone with the happy memories of life with their beloved. I thought I might do that, but it’s just not who I am. For better or worse (and I have definitely experienced worse) I believe I am built to pair up. I am happier being part of a couple. I like having a significant other. I like knowing someone has my back and that I have his. I like sharing experiences of all ilks and building a memory bank together.

I do wonder a bit about the whole heaven thing. I am a believer. I visited a psychic who trotted out a number of my dead relatives and said things to me on their behalf that she could not possibly have known. So I believe they are all “up there” someplace waiting for me. John is older than I am and the chances are he will get to heaven first. I have always believed Tom would be waiting for me. I am a little worried about who I will sit by! But then I keep remembering the book I read by a very learned woman who had a near-death experience and said all the questions you have, all the stuff you are so worried about finding out about just fades away. Either the answers become immediately obvious or the questions themselves become needless in the presence of all that love. I can’t really wrap my brain around that, but it sounds incredibly cool. I’m sure not in any hurry to leave this beautiful (albeit a little fucked up right now) planet and all the people here I love, but I like knowing that there is NOTHING to fear about the next chapter and I will look forward to swimming in that sea of love with all my loved ones and yours and everybody else’s. I hope it is Tommy who’s assigned the job of greeting me at the end of the white light. I’ve missed him so.


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