Squirrels, Cairns and a Dragonfly Wing

On a recent Sunday, I found myself on the way to church. I have neglected my church for a while now. Not so much because I don’t enjoy it, physical ability and time have been in short supply.

My church is the place I find peace and clarity when I need peace and clarity. My church has no walls or roof, it is an ocean or stream or a spot in the deep woods where God’s presence surrounds, and evidence of his grace abounds. I can sit for hours listening, observing and, most importantly, reflecting. If I’m lucky, I discover something about myself.

On my mind this morning, was a quote I recently discovered and hoped had some merit:

“The moment you accept responsibility

 for everything in your life

is the moment you gain the power

to change anything in your life.”

                               -Hal Elrod

The trip wasn’t my idea. My co-pilot suggested it on a whim the previous evening- I needed a dose of peace and clarity and I was looking forward to spending time with my Squirrel.

I call her my Squirrel because, well, she is a squirrel and she is mine- or rather, she was at one point.

She owns the moniker- we laugh about it. Focus is not her strong suit-particularly in conversation. If you stumbled into one of our conversations, you would be lost. A.D.D. comes to mind.

I have known Squirrel for the better part of 2 decades. We share a deep connection. Our relationship began as a friendship and morphed into something entirely different when we found ourselves divorced and alone. It was passionate, turbulent, fulfilling and frustrating.

At the end of it, neither of us had the energy or desire to make a fuss. We torched our ends of the bridge and simply walked away.

I hate to lose, the failure of our relationship haunted me in the ensuing years- we ruined a perfectly good friendship for our own selfish reasons and had not uttered a single word to each other in more than 6 years. Until recently.

I hoped this day would offer some understanding for both of us. Peace is what I was seeking. Peace is not what I received.

Upon reflection, I did enjoy the day- the conversation, the hike and our last dinner.

We share a strange fascination with symbolism, finding significance in seemingly random objects and events.

Our first sign of the day was strung across the doors of a gas station/sandwich shop, it read “Restrooms Out of Order Until Further Notice”. We weren’t hungry, but we sure did have to pee.

While we discussed our options, the owner eavesdropped on our conversation and volunteered the space behind his dumpster in the parking lot. I’m guessing the health inspector doesn’t work Sundays or the owner is a creep with a security camera behind the dumpster.

The second sign appeared as we approached our destination.  A young squirrel was eating in the middle of the road between the double yellow lines. As we slowed for the squirrel, a car approached from the opposite direction- the squirrel was in imminent danger if she darted either way. Instead of witnessing her death, we watched as she hopped straight up, hung for what seemed forever, and landed in the exact same spot- safe and sound.

We didn’t think much about it. Until later.

With no plans except to be near water and talk, we struck out on a trail I knew which led to a plunge pool below a natural water slide. As the trail opened onto a pebble beach, we saw our rushing water slide was reduced to two narrow bands of skinny water flowing down either side of an enormous rock.

Squirrel being Squirrel, kicked off her shoes and waded across the pool. Me being me, paused to see if she disappeared into an unseen hole.

As she approached the opposite bank, I grabbed our lunch and followed. Climbing the smooth, sloping rock face, it dawned on both of us we were on solid ground together for the first time in a long time.

While I was finishing lunch, I noticed her stacking rocks beside the skinny water at the top of the slide. She explained she had seen rock piles in other places. I told her they were called cairns and had been used for centuries to mark the way for travelers. I did not tell her they are also used as memorials and grave markers.

Lunch finished and cairn built, we picked our way carefully down the rock face and crossed the pool once more. She offered her hand to steady me and I took it, remembering how much I liked holding her hand.

Drying our feet, we noticed a single dragonfly wing shining on the pebbles. One fragile, beautiful wing had survived the dragonfly’s demise.

I’m not sure how it began but we stumbled into deep conversation. We had no intention of hiking but here we were, on a trek thru a painful time in our lives- steep hills, dangerous cliffs and dark valleys. We traveled many miles and lost track of time. As we approached the end of our journey, I found myself constructing a small cairn of my own- I topped it with a small smooth stone.

We were emotionally exhausted, it was time to pack our bags. I silently noted we had a lot more to carry out than we brought in.

I returned to retrieve the small stone atop my cairn. I needed it for my collection of small stones with special significance.

Our day wasn’t quite over.  We hiked down the mountain beside a waterfall stopping midway to spend an hour catching up on our children and professional lives. The conversation was safe and easy.

Only a threatening storm rolling across the mountaintop ended our adventure.

On our way out of the park, we witnessed a fawn dash across the busy road to rejoin its mother- narrowly escaping an oncoming car and certain death.

Later that night, in a phone call that stretched far into the following morning, she shared her hopes for me, encouraged by the positive symbolism of events that day. I never dared mention the approaching storm that ended our day or the cairns that would not survive the next high water.

Although I desperately wanted to see the bridge still passable, it was damaged beyond repair.

I will always remain thankful for that day and the raw emotions it stirred in both of us.

After all, feeling means living.


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