I can’t stop thinking about a man I encountered recently. I try to imagine his life, his circumstances, but my powers of imagination fail me. He will have to remain a mystery. That irks the journalist in me. It delights the inner poet.
Two great new friends and I were walking a path into a grove of trees in a secret watershed to see a sacred Oregon hardwood, a record-setter that might have began growing about the time Columbus launched his mission of genocide.
The grove emitted a potent scent so powerful it felt as if we were drugged. Perhaps we were. This sort of scent is a drug to some, but unfortunately, not enough.
We walked and talked of our lives before the Internet, the halcyon days. I heard something up the trail. It was the distinct sound of someone raking. What? How in the world could that sound emanate from this grove? We stopped and listened and screwed up our faces in disbelief.
Of course we kept moving toward the sound of raking! How could we not? Where the sound of raking exists near a sacred tree, you follow it.
A big black dog bounded over some downed trees and startled me. He stood in the middle of the trail, almost as if he was guarding it. I said “hello.” He was goofy, bumbling, friendly enough, and then turned around and disappeared the way he’d appeared.
In the distance I heard a man call for the dog.
We kept going and in short order, I encountered an older man raking the trail ahead of me, a few feet away from the sacred tree. He wore a red jacket and had good raking technique but worked somewhat with a limp.
“Just getting the trail ready for the holidays,” he said to me as he moved off the trail to let me pass.
I thanked him for his labor. My friends passed him and did the same. He moved on down the trail and the dog followed him. I got the idea he wanted us to experience the tree without him, the dog, and the raking around. I wished he’d stayed. I bet he knew more about the tree than anyone.
We marveled at the tree and one of my friends took a cutting from it. Desecration? Certainly not. He wanted the heir to that tree on his land. In 500 years, someone, certainly not an American as we now define American, would discover the heir up some remote draw and marvel, perhaps go to her knees in wonder and reverence. That tree might even touch off a spiritual and ecological revival.
I wanted to know the man’s story. Was he the official caretaker of the tree? Was he self-appointed? What were his hours? What about the dog?
After our visit to the tree, we came back down the trail and the man was refilling brochures inside a wooden rack. We thanked him again and went to my car, where we stood outside and watched him load up the dog, stash the rake, get inside his 25-year-old import sedan, and drive away.
We drove away, too, and for the first few miles, talked about nothing except the man. We all agreed it would have been better if he had wielded an ancient metal rake instead of the plastic one he used. Would have made it more poetic.
But this wasn’t a poem.