A Hike Between the Seams

In the seam of time at the end of the summer,  I set off on a hike with my grandson Simon. At nine years, he is a sturdy and interesting child. These days that we spend without his parents are precious to us both, time out of time spent in a place of beauty and quiet. Together we extend the joys of summer and store up peaceful memories for the school year ahead.

Our hike  has become a true hike this year.  Simon can read a map, follow a trail, show me things that he has learned in school about trees, birds, and monarch butterflies. As we walk we wonder about milkweed plants. Why are they so sticky? What is inside their milky substance that helps caterpillar create such bursts of color? The trail is cool and quiet and we are all alone.

Simon hunts in the underbrush for a tall stick. “Here Bubbie, a walking stick for you.” He knows my knee has been wobbly. But then he finds one for himself too, so we can trek together companionably. I tell Simon about how I like to end my summer every year with a series of hikes because it is how I put my whole body into getting ready for Rosh HaShanah; as I walk, I explain, I think about where I have been in the past year and where I would like to go in the New Year. When I hike it just becomes clear to me what I need to do. He nods in agreement. The past year has been eventful for him. He is now a big brother. And in a few weeks he begins a new routine in a new school. Mind you, we do not discuss these things. Hiking with Bubbie is not an invitation for me to pry into his inner world. We find acorns and thistle flowers, ferns and mosses in so many shades of green. We decide to squirrel away a few small samples so he can create a still life drawing when we get home.

We discover a trail called the Native American Garden and wonder about what might grow there. Did the people who lived on this land and fished in Otter Creek plant food here? Perhaps they grew dyes for weaving, or medicines for healing. He already a well-read person and can converse about many things.

As the woods thicken we spot logs that have fallen along the trail. “Hold up, Simon, look down at this for a second. We will see more if we walk with an eye to notice. Look at the mushrooms growing from the sides of that dead tree. And the mosses growing too. Feel how soft the moss is.  Here is a tree that has become a home for termites, which become food for birds. Isn’t it amazing that even though that tree is dead it provides so much life for others?”

And then it comes to me, a moment of enormous clarity that I feel in my body as I bend over and poke with my grandson. I am that tree. My eyes flood with tears for a moment just as my heart fills up with sadness and love. I am that tree. This year that is passing, that has past, has been a year of real aging, not just knees that aren’t quite strong anymore but other body parts that have required attention, treatment, healing. I am that tree. This is the year when I must embrace more fully what this means, instead of resisting it in some way. I am the tree. It is a blessing to be able to distribute nourishment and refuge for others. It is a blessing to have lived so long to be a sacred container for others. It is simply a blessing to be with a little boy who is old enough to hold the memories of our hikes together and perhaps pass them along to his own children and his own grandchildren as they set out on their own hikes between the seams, in this glorious time of the year.

Jane Shapiro, a founder of Orot: The Center for New Jewish Learners has been a teacher to many over the last thirty. She is a graduate of the Mandel Teacher Educators Institute and Visions of Jewish Education projects. In 2017 Jane received an Educators Award from the Covenant Foundation. She lives in Skokie, Illinois with her husband David and is also mother to four sons, mother-in-law to three daughters and grandmother to four.