By now the woods felt like home to James, as much like home as anyplace ever did. His frequent visits had worn a path through the pine needles that curled over the hill and wound down the other side, past the stream and deep into the forest. If this were any other day he would have stopped to examine the tracks in the mud along the edges of the stream bed. He would have picked up rocks and thrown them in to see how big a splash he could make. He would have looked for places where the bark had been rubbed off the trees to know where the deer had been last night. He would have stopped to investigate the holes in the rotting tree stump in search of what new creatures may have taken up residence there. But not today. Today James moved quickly through the trees, eager to share his latest find.
Keeper, accustomed to their adventures through the forest, had no problem keeping pace with James, although he did wander off occasionally whenever he found a scent trail too enticing to ignore. Jane marveled at her son’s ease in this place. She took comfort in knowing he had found belonging and watched him with a mother’s eyes — admiring the boy moving confidently through the trees and imagining the man he would one day become.
When they came to the place where the moss grew thick along the trail, they stopped. There it was…the Tallest Tree. Reaching far above the others — long ago a sapling that had the good fortune to sprout in the one spot where the sun reached all the way to the forest floor. The trees understood what most humans did not — roots are both a blessing and a curse and being planted in the right place is what matters most.
“Wow.” This was all Jane could muster at the sight of it, in awe of its grandeur. She looked at James, her eyes wide.
Proud of his find, and encouraged by his mother’s reaction, James clambered up the tree. He moved easily among the branches and came to rest high above the ground in the crook of a particularly thick limb that hung out over the spot where his mother stood.
“Hi Mom,” James called down to her playfully.
Jane giggled with pleasure at the sight of him, sitting up so high like a little bird. She remembered her own childhood and the many afternoons spent climbing in the massive old oak tree behind the barn at her parents’ farm.
“Wait there for me,” Jane yelled. “I’m coming up and we’ll see how high we can go.” She moved almost as effortlessly as James, surprising even herself, and quickly reached the spot where he sat. Together, legs dangling, they took in the view from above while Keeper watched and circled the base of the tree, unable to join them. A gentle breeze blew through the forest and the fur on the back of his neck stood up. But James and his mother were too far up to notice. Keeper let out a long, low growl.
“I wonder if we could see our house from here,” said James. They took a minute to consider which direction home would be, and decided to climb higher and take a look. James took the lead, anxious to be the first to spot their house. Jane stood to follow, placing her hand on the trunk for balance. The tree swayed gently in the breeze and Keeper growled again…loud enough this time for James to hear him. It all happened so quickly and yet it seemed to play out over an eternity. As he turned his gaze downward, James watched in horror as his mother slipped away from him, appearing in this slowed motion like a leaf drifting toward the ground. She made no sound as she fell. Unable to comprehend what had just happened, James knew only this for certain…his mother had landed hard upon the roots at the base of the tree and she wasn’t moving.
©Kelly Rainey and 500wordsandcounting.wordpress.com, 2015.
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