The Trail Ahead

By Jackie Papandrew

Not long ago, I watched my oldest child cross a stage, mortarboard perched precariously on his head, and accept his high school diploma with a brilliant smile. I don’t see how this is possible as it was just yesterday he crossed a stage with another mortarboard on his head and flashed a gap-toothed grin at his kindergarten graduation.

I’m sure all the other parents were as stunned as I to suddenly be standing at the closing bookend of childhood. But it didn’t really hit me until a few days later when our family began its annual summer hike in the Rocky Mountains. We’ve been hiking the same stretch since my children were preschoolers, unable to keep up. In fact, I have pictures of both kids being carried on the shoulders of their dad and grandpa.

We’ve hiked that trail so many times now that certain trees, streams and boulders are infused with memories, and every family member remembers details the rest of us have forgotten. One of us recalls stumbling into an ice-cold stream and then walking for hours in wet shoes. Another remembers eating lunch on the trunk of a fallen pine tree until an attack by ravenous ants. Grandpa remembers a pair of osprey that nested in a tree overlooking a beautiful mountain lake. We lay back on a large, sunny rock, watching the birds swoop down to catch fish for their hungry offspring.

My daughter remembers our yearly pilgrimage to the grave of a beloved dog who was buried just off the trail. The dog’s owner had erected a simple wooden marker on which he (or she) had painted a heartfelt epitaph: Sid – World’s Best Dog. We spent a couple of hours after we first found the grave amusing each other with stories about Sid’s imagined adventures on the trail. I can clearly hear my kids’ high, eager voices, talking over each other as they competed to give Sid’s life the juiciest details.

Grandma’s memories of the trail center on which boulders and tree trunks provided the most privacy for the inevitable call of nature. Grandma is an expert at picking out secluded spots. Sadly, though, I am not. My son’s favorite hiking story is about the time that I – not realizing my chosen spot could be seen from another part of the trail – exposed my backside to a group of college students. They’re probably still in therapy.

My husband and I share a favorite location – a log bridge over a rushing stream. The first time each of our kids clambered across that bridge unassisted was a momentous event, captured in pictures. The trail from the bridge leads off into dense woods, curving out of sight. This year, I stopped to take a picture of the bridge, as I always do. My son, all grown up, crossed  ahead of me, then turned to look back, the trail with its unseen destination stretching ahead of him.

I snapped the shot, then had to sit down on a rock to compose myself. Someday, he’ll understand why.

© Jackie Papandrew, All Rights Reserved

2 Responses to “The Trail Ahead”
  1. loren75 says:

    Beautiful story, Jackie.

  2. jackiepmamazina says:

    Thank you!

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