The short piece below is from What We Hold In Our Hands: a Slow Road Reader. The “friend” it speaks of I had not seen since the early 80s. He was just here, and it was as if we’d had our last conversation over coffee a week ago instead of 25 years ago. I’ll hope to tell you more soon.
One summer not long after college, a good friend and I were backpacking through the sunken canyons of the Bankhead Wilderness in Alabama.
We laid out our sleeping bags that afternoon in the humid shade in a half-cave of sandstone, looking out on the Sipsey River close below us. A summer shower sent sheets of warm rain sweeping over the narrow swath of forest between rocky rims. The sound of it hissed softly like the surf in a seashell.
Lying on my back with my hands clasped behind my head, a serene and wordless five minutes passed. I blinked away a speck of sand, and then another. A few minutes later, my friend reached up and wiped at his eyes. He turned to me with an amused chuckle in an instant of mutual comprehension. In that twinkling we grasped the cosmic scale of single grains of sand falling from the massive roof of our seemingly immutable stone shelter.
So this is what becomes of mountains, we said, and laughed, the irony of the moment appreciated.
Later that afternoon, we sat on a ferny boulder above the river. Deep in its warm green waters small fish held their place, barely, against the current.
“They use up a lot of energy just to keep from being swept to the sea” I remarked.
“We all do, Fred. We all do” my friend said.
And as we sat quietly watching, listening to the remnants of the last shower still dripping from the tulip poplars, the sandy bottom of mountain bits beneath those bright fish washed, speck by grain and foot by foot, towards a distant Gulf Coast beach.