Thursday, October 30, 2014

Snake, Rattle, and Role

“You’re nuts!”  My wife says.
            She thinks I’m crazy for wanting to hike; to climb mountains, enduring the cold, the heat, rain, and snow.  Subjecting myself to an almost infinite number of hazards in the form of falls, sprains and dangerous insects, animals and reptiles.

            I shrug off her insult and choose not to think about the hardships and the dangers.  I choose to dream of the beauty, the solace, and peace I will find when I take off on a trail and become a part of the raw wilderness itself.

            It doesn’t take me long, once I immerse myself in the woods to become a part of it.  My hands are the first to show the process.  They become almost immediately stained, taking on the same color and texture as the forest floor.  After a couple of days, my physical body is not much different than many of the wild creatures that roam the mountainsides, trying to survive.  From head to toe, there is a grit and grime that becomes a part of the epidermis itself.  I’m sure I don’t smell much better than those wild creatures as well, but fortunately, I don’t run into many other homo-sapiens in the wild.  If by chance I do, they are usually in a similar condition.

            It was the end of September and a couple of buddies and I planned a four day trek on the Foothills Trail.  Parts of this trail are in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. The section we planned to hike would total about thirty-one miles and even though I had not studied the topo maps in detail, I was assured by my buddy Rick that there was very little elevation change over the length of the trail.

            My buddy Doug and I headed up a day early and hiked a short distance to Burrel’s Ford, which is a campsite along the famed Chattooga River. This was the river the movie ‘Deliverance’ was filmed.
            Doug and I found a suitable spot to set camp along the river and immediately began gathering fire wood to enable us to keep a good campfire well into the night. 

            The woods surrounding our campsite was dense with underbrush.  Rhododendron, with its thick waxy leaves smothered the forest floor.  Tall hardwoods, such as the Poplar, Oak, Hickory and an occasional Pine or Hemlock choked any sunlight from reaching the ground.

            The river tumbled over rocks carving its way through the dense forest. The sound of the river was comforting even though the dark forest that surrounded us was somewhat unnerving.

            As we gathered wood in the thick underbrush, I was acutely aware of the possibility of encountering one of the many snakes that frequent areas such as this.  Copperheads the most probable, although a Timber Rattler was not out of the question. Fortunately, the river itself is very cold and most reptiles will usually stay further away from the cold mountain streams such as this.  On the other hand, this looked to be a perfect environment for the black bear, and I knew from what I had read, this area had the largest black bear population in the United States.  As I looked around the dense woods I said to Doug, “Looks kind of beary doesn’t it?”

            Doug laughed and said, “Beary……is that a word?”

            “Don’t know……but it’s perfect for this place….huh??

            “Yep” Doug said and strolled into the folds of the forest looking for tinder.

            We managed to find enough fire wood, without encountering a snake, and we then set about cooking our meagre dinner. 

            Darkness fell on us quickly. With head lights and the wet conditions, we struggled to get a fire started.  Eventually we succeeded and we continued to feed the fire trying to illuminate the blackest of black darkness that seemed to swallow us whole.

            There were noises that slithered through the darkness, making us aware that even though visually we were oblivious to what was going on in the thick woods around us, the shrieks, rustlings, thumps and chatters acknowledged the fact that there were creatures active just beyond the curtain of darkness. As I ate my dehydrated Red Beans and Rice, sipping on water, sitting cross legged on a rather damp ground I thought to myself……I am Nuts!

            Even though we had plenty of wood, and we built a rather large fire, the illumination hit a wall of blackness a mere twenty feet from the fire.

            We turned in around 10pm, realizing that we would have to get up at dawn.  We would have to break camp, hike out to the car, and drive about ten miles to meet Rick to begin our thirty-one mile hike on the Foothills Trail.

            6:30am came early.  The sun technically had risen, but to us was unseen.  There was a heavy fog, and again the green canopy above obscured any light there may have been.  We managed to break camp and began the short up-hill climb back to the car.

            Around 10am we finally met Rick at Bad Creek Reservoir.  The three of us chatted briefly then left one vehicle there and took the other thirty miles away to the trailhead where we would begin our three day adventure.

            We began our adventure at Frozen Creek, located in Gorges State Park, South Carolina.

            As we were getting the gear out of the car, strapping on our backpacks, Rick said, “Dang it!  I left my frigging trekking poles in the other car.  Crap…..I can’t walk without those.  I’ll need to pick up a couple of suitable sticks to use as poles.

            Fortunately, at the trail head, someone had left two walking sticks, and Rick grabbed them to use on our journey.   

            In the beginning the trail is actually an old logging road, and as Rick had said it started as a downhill walk. 

            Unfortunately, I don’t think Rick had studied the topo maps in detail, because we had not hiked a quarter of a mile when the trail began a steep ascent.  The old road bed had large surge stone that had been spread on certain sections.  Surge stone is large granite gravel (baseball size) and is used around construction sites as a temporary solution to impassable roads.

            The stone was mostly found on the steep inclines of the road to prevent erosion, and this made climbing the hills most difficult.  

            “Hey Rick…..I thought you said this was downhill the whole way.”  I said between gasps for air and an occasional swearing fit.

            Doug laughed.

            “I just went by what the maps said.”  Rick said, possibly questioning his own interpretation of the topos.

            “You must have read them upside down!”  I said as I slid about four feet backwards on the surge stone.  “It wouldn’t be bad but for this damn rock……’s killing me!”

            “Yeah…..the gravel makes it difficult……we’ll probably have a steep downhill the last portion of the trail to the first camp.”  Rick said, trying to sound convincing.

            We hiked, slid, and cussed for three hours before reaching our first campsite where Toxaway Creek empties into Lake Jocassee.

            It was a beautiful campsite.  It was a spacious area, free from underbrush.  Tall stands of hardwoods spaced evenly throughout the area shaded but still allowed enough of the sun’s drying rays in to create an almost perfect camp site. We crossed a long swinging bridge across Toxaway Creek to the area where we had planned to camp.

            The spacious area was adjacent to the large, roaring, Toxaway creek that splashed and tumbled over moss covered rocks and eventually emptied into a turquoise lake, Lake Jocassee. 

            We set camp where Toxaway creek emptied into lake. The view to our south was of the pristine lake, complete with a sandy and rock beach.  To our immediate west was a beautiful view of Toxaway Creek.

            It’s a great feeling when one hikes all day and eventually arrives at the campsite where one plans to camp.  Its even better to see that the site is as beautiful as this. 

            I chose two trees that were perfect to hang my hammock.  Rick found him two comparable trees to do the same, and Doug found a nice level piece of ground for his tent.

            We once again gathered firewood, cooked a little dinner and then wandered about the area looking at the varying views that was offered.  We spent a good portion of time hiking down the shore of the lake, taking our time and watching as the sun began its descent for the evening.  The lake glowed. The turquoise water, ripples of gold, played with each of our individual thoughts as we separately found our perfect spot to sit, watch and contemplate our lives.  Its moments as this that makes all the effort, the pain, and the risks, all worthwhile.  I began to think……Maybe those who  don’t do this are Nuts!         

            As the setting sun extinguished itself over the western horizon, we made our way back to camp and built a large fire for the evening.  We sat around the fire, discussing the plan for the next day’s hike.  We discovered that it was going to be further than what we thought.  We estimated about ten to eleven miles and once again, Rick assured us, there was not going to be a lot of uphill climbs. 

            After the day’s hike from Frozen Creek, I did not completely trust Rick’s interpretation of the topo maps, so I reviewed them myself and felt somewhat satisfied that even though there were a lot of ups and downs we would encounter, the major up-hills did not appear to be that daunting.

            The three of us sat around the roaring fire laughing, talking, and sharing stories.  We watched as the stars blinked on above, eventually filling the skies in all their glory.  It was a beautiful night.

            Once again we willed ourselves to rise early.  The earlier we started the hike, the more time we would have to complete the ten or eleven miles we had to hike to get to the next planned campsite. 

            Begrudgingly, we shouldered our packs and crossed the swinging bridge across Toxaway Creek heading west toward a whole new adventure.

            Almost immediately crossing the long swinging bridge over Toxaway Creek we came to another, even longer swinging bridge over part of the lake itself.  Both bridges swayed out of rhythm as the three of us walked gingerly across them.  We stopped midway across both to take a photo of the view proffered.

            As we came off the second swinging bridge, the trail began a steep ascent.  The trail meandered steeply up a boulder field and the face of a rocky cliff. Ten minutes up the steep slope I stopped in my tracks and looked over my shoulder to my two buddies and said, “Damn!  I swear the topos did not look this bad!”

            Both buddies agreed, only shaking their heads in agreement, because both were struggling for their breath.

            We made it through the boulder field, but the trail continued to climb steeply.  Large hardwoods, oaks and poplars towered above us.  Acorns littered the trail by the thousands.  It was like walking up a steep sidewalk covered in marbles.  After ten to fifteen minutes of slipping, sliding and falling up the acorns we would stop to catch our breath, only to be pummeled by hundreds of falling acorns.  The tall oaks swayed in the gentle breeze and released their hardened fruit upon us.  It appeared to be an intentional assault upon us.  We’re Nuts!

            Doug, being an avid hunter and outdoorsman, informed us that apparently there was very few deer in this area.  He explained that deer love to eat acorns.  He continued to say that when hunting, he would always look for oak trees and the ground littered with acorns, because he knew the deer would frequent the area.

            I personally figured there were no deer in the area because of the acorns.  Nothing in their right mind would willingly attempt to walk up this trail and be acorn-ed to humiliation as we were doing.

            Fortunately, the areas of Acorn Armageddon were sporadic and we would have brief moments of some relief, although we seemed to never reach the top of the mountain.

            Fall and early spring are some of the most beautiful times to hike in the mountains, but it also brings some added dangers.  During these times of the year, the temperatures are normally cooler, sometimes dipping into the thirties and forties at night.  The day’s highs may only be in the high fifties.  Snakes are usually active once the temperatures are above fifty.  During the warmer part of the day, a snake will usually find a sunny area, unfortunately usually on the trail, and sun itself; attempting to warm itself to feed. Knowing this, one has to be vigilant when hiking a trail, always watching where one steps.  In the fall the leaves cover the trail, possibly hiding a well camouflaged copperhead or timber rattler.  The cooler temperatures makes them somewhat lethargic, making them less likely to slither off the trail when they sense your close.  Instead they curl up….and wait.

            It has been said that a snake won’t bite the first person, but will bite the second.  Not sure if that is true, because I’ve known hikers to be bit regardless of the order in which they passed the snake. 

            I almost always lead.  It’s never discussed amongst my buddies and myself.  It just seems to happen.  I figure its mainly because I’m always ready….early.  Ready to go.  So whenever we start the hike, I’m the first to take off. 

            Doug is almost always following up the rear and Rick is usually second.  This order, although not discussed, is not totally by chance.  If we allowed Rick to bring up the rear, Doug and I both realize we would probably not see him again for several days.  Rick’s Slow!  He dawdles, wanders, ambles, tarries, stops and smells the roses, and hikes a little in between.  Doug stays on his heels, keeping him with the group.  It should also be noted that Rick is the only one of us that wears snake proof gaiters.  Yeah……let’s put Rick second!

            Finally we reach the top of the first mountain we are to cross for the day, Grindstone Mountain.  We breathe a sigh of relief and take a moment to catch our breath and quench our thirst. After a few minutes we heave on our packs and follow the trail that drops off in a steep descent.  I lead once again, skating down the cascades of rolling nuts, watching for snakes, and listening to Doug, in third, go on and on about how deer would love all these nuts.  Maybe we should put him in second!

            The trail is up and down, crossing Grindstone Mountain, then Chestnut Mountain, plummeting down to Horse Pasture River, and then over Narrow Rock Ridge.  We hike all day, the trail continuing to be unforgiving, and we eventually arrive at our next campsite. 

            The campsite is not near as nice as the previous, but sits directly beside Cane Break Creek that has plenty of flow.  The site itself is a little overgrown.  Fallen trees, litter the entire area, decaying where they sit.  Cane Break Creek is hidden from view by a thick wall of rhododendron and on the opposite side of the campsite the terrain is steep, covered with ‘dog hobble’ and large hardwoods.

            Rick had run out of water a little earlier and I was getting low, so we both immediately went to the stream and began filtering the water, filling our Nalgene bottles to the brim.

            Doug took the opportunity to start gathering firewood and within an hour we had our tents and hammocks set, firewood gathered, and water bottles filled.  Rick took off his boots and snake proof gaiters, and slipped on a pair of camp sandals. I slipped on a pair of Crocks, and Doug took off to the adjacent stream to sit and soak his feet in the cold water of Cane Break Creek.  Now as dusk approached, all we had to do was relax!

            “Whoa!...........Whoa!”  Doug said as he took a few steps back from the wall of rhododendron he was about to squeeze through to get to the creek. 

            I was sitting a mere ten feet from him when he made his remark.  I looked up immediately and saw him backing up toward me, his eyes on the ground in front of him. 

            “What is it? it a snake?”  Somehow I wasn’t surprised. 


            The three of us gathered around the now coiled up serpent and each gave their opinion as to whether it was poisonous or not.  Rick seemed to think it was just a water snake and both Doug and I kept looking trying to determine if it had a triangular head or not.  After careful observation, from a respectable distance of ten feet, we all decided it had a triangular head and most likely was poisonous.  It was hard to tell how long it was, since it was in a coiled position. Doug said, “Should I kill it?”

            I was debating within myself as to what should be done.  I hate killing anything, but at the same time I did not like the idea of walking around a dark campsite at night knowing there was a three to four foot poisonous snake slithering about either.

            Rick said, “I’m putting back on my snake gaiters.” And walked off to do just that.

            I said, “Yeah…..we need to kill it.”

            Doug picked up a large rock of about thirty pounds and holding it over his head, he hurled it with vengeance at the slimy reptile.  The rock hit with a loud thud.  The snake twisted and convoluted upon itself, wrapping itself in knot like fashion; raised its tail and rattled its rattles profusely.

            It was a Rattle Snake! 

            Its head was almost dismembered from the rest of its body. The snake continued to open its mouth, showing its fangs, and reading itself to strike if given a chance.

            “Be careful dude……snakes can still bite you…even with their head off…and they’re still poisonous.”  I said to Doug as he stepped closer to the snake and began probing at it with a long stick. One of Ricks hiking poles.

            Doug stretched the snake out lengthwise and we determined it was about three and one-half feet long.  It had the markings of a Timber Rattler but was lighter in color and had a black head.  We each took a picture of the snake, before cutting off its head and rattle.  We buried the head and threw the body of the snake into the stream, figuring it would feed the fish. Nature’s recycling program.

            Rick had returned wearing his leather, high-top, hiking boots and snake gaiters, wrapped to his knees.  Both Doug and I decided we should give the rattles to Rick. For always hiking second in line.

            We counted the buttons on the rattle and determined that the snake was twelve years old.

            The sun gave its last gasp of light for the day.

            The next morning we once again arose early, figuring we had about eight to nine miles to hike before we reached the car at Bad Creek Reservoir.  We studied the maps, and even though the topos suggested a relatively easy hike, none of us commented as such.  Based on the past couple of days, we felt compelled to assume the hike was going to be a bitch.

            Our assumptions proved to be correct.  We climbed up the steep Misery Mountain, then a steep descent to the Thompson River, then back up Gall Buster Mountain, I personally think they misspelled this particular mountain… Ball Buster maybe?  We skirted the edge of Whitewater Mountain then descended once again to the Whitewater River. 

            During the three days on this trail we crossed four major rivers that fed Lake Jocassee.  Most of the bridges were cable bridges although the last two were supported with metal support beams and were much more stable. 

            After crossing the Whitewater River we took a spur trail which left the famed Foothills Trail and turned south, leading us to Bad Creek Reservoir.

            It was mid-afternoon by the time we reached our car at the end of the trail.  It was hot and humid as we all three stripped our filthy clothes off our backs and used pre-moistened wash cloths, attempting to give ourselves a little cleansing before changing into some clean clothes and making the 
drive back home.
Thanks Rick Harding for being second and thanks Doug Brown for keeping him in second.  A great trip with great friends.  Snake, Rattle and Role guys! 

September 24, 2014 through the September 27, 2014

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Lesson for Christmas

A Lesson for Christmas

            Christmas.  Some say Merry Christmas, those who feel they must say it politically correct, say Happy Holidays.  Whichever way you feel obligated to wish one a merry Christmas, most everyone will agree that the holidays that surround what has been called Christmas, is a time of joy and excitement.  Families become closer. They will set aside a few days and sometimes travel long distances to spend time with those they do not see on a regular basis.  Friends will give much thought to acquiring the perfect gift to give, attempting to capture the feelings the meaning of their close friendship.
            Children revel in the idea that Santa Claus is making his list, checking it twice, and trying to find out who’s naughty or nice.  The children dreaming of that special bicycle, bat and glove or special little doll that will make their Christmas complete. 
            The holidays gives one a time to reflect on Christmas’ past.  Some of the most memorable moments of childhood, parenthood, and being a grandparent occur during this special season.  So it is only fitting that on this particular holiday, I too reflect, remembering a Christmas twenty three years past and think about that Christmas when I learned a very important lesson.
            My wife, Rhonda, my daughter, Haley, and I went as usual to our church’s Wednesday night supper.  It was only a couple weeks before Christmas and there was to be some special music performed for the holiday season after supper.  There was a festive feel. Everyone wore their favorite Christmas sweaters and the children were bouncing off the walls with anticipation having heard that Santa was to make his appearance.
            It was an evening that was much like thousands of others across the globe. It was the season of Joy.
            After the dinner and the special music, Santa did make his appearance.  He let each child sit on his knee and explain to him exactly what they wanted for Christmas.  The parents watched with smiles on their faces as each child pleaded their case.  Santa assured each child that if they were good, he would attempt to bring them what they desired.
            Santa left with a big Ho…Ho….Ho, and the parents helped clean up the tables and put away the chairs as the children played. 
            My daughter at the time was about three years old and as we drove through the neighborhoods returning home, she was mesmerized by the display of Christmas decorations that adorned most every house.  There were some houses that had huge lawn displays.  Large inflatable Santa’s, and snowmen.  There were wood cut-outs of Rudolph and houses draped in a multitude of lights.  Christmas trees glowed in the front windows, covered with silver and gold tinsel. 
            As we drove slowly through the neighborhood, we came across a house that was decorated rather simply.  The house was not draped in lights and there was no inflatable Santa’s.  There were a few single candles that glowed from each window, but no Christmas tree was visible.  There was a small, manger scene displayed in front of the house.  It was softly lit, giving it a humbling ambience.  I questioned Haley, my daughter, “Do you know what that is?” And I slowed even more and pointed toward the small discreet manger scene.
            Without hesitation she responded, “That’s baby Jesus in the manger.”
            I was surprised she knew this.  I knew I had never told her the story of Jesus and I glanced at my wife and she too seemed surprised.  I questioned Haley again, “Do you know who Jesus’ mother was?”
            Again without hesitation she said, “Mary.”
            “And Jesus’ father, what was his name?”
            She answered, “Joseph.”
            Both my wife and I was pleased that she knew this but we both were surprised.  This was our only child and neither of us had any experience with children before Haley was born. We had assumed that most everything a child learns, at least in early childhood, was taught by the parents.  We had not intentionally withheld the story of Jesus, we were simply waiting for her to reach the age where she would comprehend. I took the opportunity to briefly explain the story of Jesus as we completed our ride home, but somehow I felt as though Haley was not hearing it for the first time.
            Back home, after putting Haley to bed, I questioned my wife about where she thought Haley may have learned the story of baby Jesus.  She could only assume that it was taught in day care or Sunday school. 
            I went to bed that night realizing that for the rest of my daughter’s life, I would not be the only influence in her life.  There would be others that would teach her lessons.  They would teach her values and how to be responsible.  There would be others than myself that would mold her into the person she was to be. Why I assumed I would be the only one responsible for this I’ll never know. 
            It did give me a peace of mind, knowing that I was not the only one responsible for teaching these things to our daughter, but I also realized that there may be some that would attempt to influence and teach her in a negative way and this concerned me. 
            I think it is those fears of possible negative influence that motivate some parents to home school.  This allows the parent to censor what they feel is harmful or detrimental to their child’s development. I can see both sides of the argument.  On one hand, if you decide to take complete control of the influences on your child, then you become solely responsible as well.  On the other hand if you use diligence and allow your child to experience the lessons from others, then they may learn more and possibly quicker from someone who is more experienced in the teaching or parenting arena.  Regardless which may be the best way, I never really felt I had an option.  My daughter taught me that night that there would always be others that would influence and teach her.  A lesson learned.
            A year later, there was another lesson learned.  Similar but different.  My wife and I once again had gone to pick Haley up at day care.  Haley enjoyed her days at day care and developed many friendships, during those days, which she still enjoys twenty-three years later.  It was a Christian daycare.  We attended church, Sunday school and of course Wednesday night suppers at the same church where Haley spent her days in their care.  We felt comfortable knowing Haley was being taught and influenced by people we worshiped with on a weekly basis and somehow the fear I had at one time of the possibility of negative teachings seemed to fade.
            My wife and I entered the room where the children were playing enthusiastically, and we both spotted Haley right away.  She was playing with two other little girls, laughing and having a good time and unaware that we were there.  The teacher called Haley by name and said to her, “Haley….your momma and daddy are here for you.”
            Haley came running to our side, giving us both a hug and a big smile.  We were gathering her things preparing to leave when the teacher hesitantly said, “Ms. Morgan….Mr. Morgan….I am sorry to say that Haley said a bad word today.”
            I didn’t know how to respond.  I did not know if I should ask what she said or ask for any details, but fortunately I didn’t have to think about it for long, because almost immediately my wife asked, “What did she say?”
            The teacher glanced around her, to make sure there were no other children, or for that matter, other adults around, and realizing that it was only me, my wife and Haley, who apparently already knew the word, said almost embarrassingly, “She said Shit.”  
            The word had not left the teachers tongue before Rhonda had knelt in front of Haley and very sternly scolded her.  Telling her she should never say that word.  It was a naughty word.  My wife asked, “Haley…..where did you hear that word?”
            At that moment I realized that the word in question was probably the most used word in my vocabulary.  I never said it in a profane way.  From the earliest time I can remember it was a word that seemed to adequately and sometimes accurately describe a particular situation or particular condition.  It could be used as a verb, a noun, an adjective or an adverb and convey with just four letters exactly what I was trying to describe.  I didn’t describe my car as simply an old car, my car was old as shit.  My car didn’t run bad, it ran like shit. Last night’s supper wasn’t bad left overs, it tasted like shit. All of a sudden, once my wife questioned Haley as to where she might have heard that word, I knew I was in a world of shit!”
            Haley did not answer right away.  Both the teacher and Rhonda waited patiently for Haley to name the guilty party. My mind raced, attempting to prepare my defense, and I suddenly felt feverish as I expected my daughter to point at me and say, “Daddy.” I wanted to hide.  My wife questioned again, “Haley….where did you hear that word.”
            Haley looked across the room and pointed meekly at one of the other little girls she had been playing with and said, “Caitlyn……Caitlyn told me that word.  I Sorry Mommy.”
            My wife hugged her and explained to her once again that she should never say that word. We gathered our daughter’s things and hurried out the door to head home. 
            Once in the car, I admitted to my wife that when she asked Haley where she might have heard that word, that I was afraid she was about to say it was me.
            Rhonda smiled and said, “Yeah…I figured she was about to call you out myself.”
            That was the next lesson I learned.  Yes, there will be negative influences and teachings on your child’s life.  Some of those negative influences, bad teachings, might be simply poor habits you as a parent had acquired, and as the age old saying goes, actions speak louder than words.
            It seems odd to me that from the moment my daughter was born, I felt an extreme responsibility to raise her the best way I knew how.  Teaching her the joys, the sorrows, the ins and outs of life.  It is strange that in just these two short lessons of Christmas, I was taught some lessons of life by my daughter.
            I realized later that night, that I would have to improve my vocabulary. I realized that I welcomed, even more now, the assistance of others to adequately teach my daughter and help her to become the person I wanted her to be.  I also realized that there had to be a certain amount of faith and trust, in allowing others access to influence and help mold the daughter I so loved.
            The answer came to me slowly that night as I thought about the events of the day and thought back to that very first Christmas lesson.  I would put my trust in that little lesson Haley taught me that Christmas a year before.
             I felt at ease that night as I realized that even though I still had a tremendous amount of responsibility in raising my daughter, I knew I would not be doing it alone.  I had my wife, countless friends, trained teachers, and baby Jesus to help.   


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Mother's Best Friend (Mother's Day 2013)

 Mother’s Best Friend


          I woke with tear filled eyes.  The room was still dark, implying it was still in the middle of the night.  The soft, fluorescent glow of the digital clock on the night stand cast an eerie glow throughout the room, augmenting the strange emptiness I felt.  I was confused as to the terrible sadness I was feeling.  I lay there in the darkened room, weeping, attempting to smother the sobs of sadness within the folds my pillow.

                        It must be just before sunrise.  The birds always began their songs a few minutes before the sun peeked over the horizon, and I heard the first melody being sung outside my bedroom window. I was not concerned of the time.  I was concerned about me and the sadness I was feeling.

            I could not even begin to describe the sadness I felt.  It was a combination of feelings.  Feelings of guilt, regret, sorrow and loss.  Even though the sadness was indescribable by me, I did understand the reason.

            It was May 12th, Mother’s Day. 

            In years past I would wake on this day, excited, anxious, and happy to be able to spend some time or at least some conversation with my mother.  Even though I never needed an excuse to call my mom, it was this day that there was an understanding between the two of us. It was a day that we shared a few laughs, a few tears and generally some heart felt emotions.  Sometimes it may be the whole day, sometimes a few minutes on the phone, but this day was set aside for me to express my love and gratitude for her. It was a day that was special for her and for me as well. 

            The conversations were always easy on this day. We would reminisce, laugh, and share what had always made us happy as mother and son.  I would tell her how much she had meant to me and always end by simply saying, “I love you mom.”

            She would always answer, “I love you too Jeff.”

            That’s why I felt so depressed.  My mother had passed away a year prior. I had an urge to call her… tell her once more how much she meant to me.  To tell her one last time….. “I love you mom,” but that would not happen today.

            I realize that it’s normal to feel the grief of the loss of a loved one, but this was different.  I felt regretful. I was feeling as if I had left too much unsaid.   

            I lay there in bed, in the dark filled room and tried to calm my emotions.  The birds began their singing in earnest and a few minutes later, the sun crept over the horizon. Sun rays bent their way through the thin slats of the blinds, painting horizontal amber stripes on the bedroom walls.  I was hoping with the light of day, my emotions would ease, but the tears continued.

            I wrestled with my emotions.  I tried to rationalize that the grief I felt was normal, but even though the grief of the loss was bad, it was the regrets that had me in a turmoil.

An hour or two went by, and the sadness had not assuaged, I decided what I must do.  I would do the next best thing to talking with my mom.  I would talk with my mom’s best friend. 

            Mom’s best friend had been with my mother most of her life.  They were the best of friends.  It was a friendship built on respect, love and most of all dedication.  My mother had always felt she could tell her friend anything and not be judged unfairly.

            I was hoping that mom’s friend could ease some of the sorrow and regrets that I had.  I’m sure mom would appreciate, me taking the time and making the effort to talk with the friend that she had loved so dearly.

            I waited later in the morning before attempting to talk with mom’s friend.  Would her friend remember me; wonder and say…why do you show up now? 

            “Hey…..this is Jeff…….Jeff Morgan….. Garnet’s son.” I said realizing the friend might not know who I was.

            “Hi Jeff…..I know who you are……How are you?”

            “Fine…I paused trying to collect my thoughts and the words…...Just thinking about Mom…..Mother’s Day and all……I thought it would be nice to talk with someone that had meant so much to her.” I said this and then realized how desperate I sounded.

            “I know….. I was just thinking of her myself.  How have you been?”

            “Alright I guess….….. I miss her though.” I said and sighed.

            “Yes…..I know…….I miss her too.”

            There was a pause as if we were both waiting for the other to continue. I sensed my mother’s friend was waiting…..not because there was nothing to be said but was waiting for me to say what needed to be said. The friend appeared to receive my reaching out with blessedness. There was not a hint of surprise that I was there to talk. It was almost as if I had been expected.

            “I loved her.” I said and began to tear once again.

            “I did as well.”                                                                                            

            “She loved you so much.  You meant everything to her.” I said, stammering a little as I said it.

“She loved you too…..more than you will ever know.” The friend said with more sympathy than one could imagine.

“I miss her.” I said and waited.

“I do as well….but……….the memories……..they’re still there…….right?”

“Yes.” I said and then began to sob uncontrollably.

“She misses you too….I’m sure…..and she would not want you to worry……”

“I just don’t feel like she knew how much… much I appreciated her.”

“She did!  You just didn’t know it.”

“I feel so bad that I didn’t tell her… you and her always seemed to know each other so well that for the most part….nothing had to be said….it was understood.  I feel I just left too much unsaid.”

Her friend sighed and said, “The heart speaks louder than you think.”

Again there was a silence as we both digested all that had been said.  It was a comfortable silence, as if we both respected each other’s ability to sort through the emotions 

I spoke first….almost meekly….but it had been bothering me. “I was always somewhat jealous of you.”

There was a chuckle then an exclamatory, “Of me? Oh my” and another voiced smile.

I felt a little embarrassed I even brought it up…but truth be known….yes I was a little jealous.

I began to try to explain, “Mom would tell me about you…..the conversations..... the trust…the faith in each other.  I just never felt like I achieved that with her.”

“She had faith in you…..she trusted you.” The friend said with assurance.

“How do you know?” I said and waited, hoping the friend had an answer.

“Because she told ME.” The friend said indisputably.

            “But I didn’t spend the time I should have…..I feel like I ignored her in some ways, especially as I got older.  I feel guilty because there were times…..and I hesitated, almost unwilling to admit…..that I felt she was a bother.” and again I broke down crying, more out of shame than anything else.       

            “No one ever has enough time to spend with the ones they love…..mainly because as we grow older…..we love more and more people.  That’s life.  It’s like trying to read all the classics in a library. They’re thousands. You pick and choose….and read a few…..hopefully….you enjoy.  You chose the best you could.  No one judges.  Especially your mom.  She did love you.” The friend said with a smile.

            I thought about what mom’s friend had just said and I wished I could accept it.   I realized that even though I at times made excuses because I did not want to be bothered with mom, I knew I loved her and I knew she loved me, and all the excuses…..the times I was too busy…..too wrapped up in my on family to spend time with her……maybe it was normal. “I could have done more.” I said and bowed my head in disappointment.

            “Jeff……..don’t ever believe that you can earn someone’s love.  Love is a gift.  Love is something someone feels toward another because it’s what’s in their heart.  It’s that spark of emotion that kindles a warmth within and it’s that warmth……the love….. that is simply shared. Gifts, favors, and even time are just tokens……..tokens that attempt to express the love felt.  Understand that these tokens of love are not for the one you love……they are for you. They make you feel better about yourself……It’s simply your attempt to prove you’re caring to yourself. Probably the best way to show someone you love them…….is to simply say…… I love you.” 

            I thought once again about what had been said, and I began to understand, “but….mom….and you……were together a lot….She could always count on you and you could always count on her. Were those just tokens?

            “Oh no……….no those were not tokens……..that’s respect. Respect and faith in each other.  Your mom could count on me because she had faith in me. I on the other hand could count on her because I had faith in her. She knew that when she was troubled…..a problem or whatever….that she could come to me because she had faith in me.  She knew that I would tell her what was right and not necessarily what she wanted to hear. She had enough faith and respect in me to know I would be honest. Respect……faith…….they’re no doubt associated with the love one feels for someone but the love is not dependent on them.  You can love someone and have very little respect or faith in them and keep in mind……that respect and faith have nothing to do with the tokens…….tokens such as time.

            I began to understand what the friend was saying and my emotions began to ease.  There was a tone of conviction in the friend’s words that made it hard to argue or to doubt.

            I thanked the friend for the conversation; that I appreciated the friend being there for my mother all those years, and for me as well. I left feeling relieved, the sorrow lessened, the guilt and regret silenced, and felt the warmth, the spark of love from my mother.

            It had been an enlightening conversation.  It had eased the sorrow, and diminished the guilt and regretful feelings that had consumed me earlier. I understood why the friend had been so important to my mother.  The friend was understanding, non-judgmental, and compassionate. 

            My mom had always been extremely religious and spiritual. She found a peace within her faith that had always impressed me.  I was raised in the church, read the bible regularly, and tried to live my life as a good Christian, but I never felt I had developed the faith, the relationship with God as my mother had.  I often questioned my mother about this. She would smile and say that I had to learn to open my heart, have faith, and develop the relationship….the relationship with God.  She would describe her conversations with God as if they were two friends, sitting over two cups of coffee, discussing the day’s events.

            Today I too had that conversation.  I spoke with her best friend……God.