Here is a guest post from Clint Marsh of Fiddler’s Green Peculiar Parish Magazine, a really lovely magazine that has a fabulous olde-worlde feel to it; a real breath of fresh air in our internet age. Highly recommended!
In the Footsteps of the Ancestors
by Clint Marsh
The morning sun crests the hills to the east, and I push my feet into the weathered work boots. They were once my grandfather Joseph’s, and now they belong to me. Their leather is marked with scrapes and stains, evidencing years of use in his woodshop and garage. He maintained the boots with regular oilings, and they seem almost stronger for the scuffs. My grandfather has no more need for the boots, or for any earthly thing. These days they serve me well on my morning hikes. I finish with the laces and depart the house, walking down residential streets on my way to the woodlands.
The boots’ rubber soles grip the tops of river stones as I cross the creek, crunching dry grass when I reach the other side. I hear birds calling—the chipper song of the towhee, the lower cries of mourning dove and crow. My lungs fill with chaparral air, and my arms swing at my sides. I slow to look at the remains of a storm-felled oak, its thick trunk and branches chopped and stacked trailside, the remaining stump obscured by new green growth. A dragonfly darts past, breaking my reverie, and I resume my pace. I look ahead, up the hill, watching shafts of sunlight stretch between the leaning eucalyptus trees.
The path ascends, and my body assumes the rhythm of the climb. Bending forward into the slope I catch sight of the boots, and I think of my grandfather. His body faded from this world last summer, but his spirit carries on. Memories move through my mind: lunches together at his kitchen table, summertime drives to visit family, and weekend afternoons at the hardware store, getting just the right part for a project. His personality—calm, methodical, and kind—and his mannerisms—a particular way of waving to a friend, the careful timing of a joke’s punchline—are as much my inheritance as anything else. The boots remind me to walk in his footsteps as best I can. I consider the countless ancestors who came before, the ones I knew and those I couldn’t, and wonder how many imperceptible heirlooms I carry with me.
At the top of the hill I pause and breathe deeply, gazing out toward the pale spires of distant cities and the cloud-crowned peaks of far-off mountains. I feel a gentle, bracing rush, a river through a cavern, the grace of life’s flow. It is easy, in this peace, to want to remain here.
The sun climbs ever higher. I return to the moment, in solitude and yet accompanied by perfect living spirits, ones which cannot be contained in flawed bodies but which, having once touched the earth, now infuse all of life. I bring them onward with me, in memory, in thought, in speech, and in action, step by step on my own path.
I descend, my boots thumping against the dirt track until it gives way to sidewalk, trees to bricks, and birdsong to the mechanical murmur of the town. I find my way once more amongst the living, all of us just children, really, caught up in the complicated pleasures and distractions of this existence. The sun continues its arc across the sky. In evening it will fall. When morning comes tomorrow, all will begin again.
~ This essay was originally published in Fiddler’s Green Peculiar Parish Magazine. Copies available at wonderella.org.