by George Banks

The old man walked slowly down the footpath that snaked through the forest. He was in no particular hurry to get where he was going. His age would not allow him to get in too much of a rush and aside from that, he was enjoying the cool autumn breeze that wisped his thin hair. The sky was slightly overcast, giving the forest a subdued, comfortable look free from an intrusive, hot sun.

It had been many years since he had walked this path. The last time was with his beautiful Jenny just a few days before she had been taken from him by the Angel of Death. They had both come here many times before, always in the autumn when it was cooler and the trees had dressed themselves in splendors of reds, oranges, yellows and brown. It was also good here in the fall because there were not so many people to intrude upon their quiet time together.

The pain of losing his Jenny hit the old man hard as he stopped walking and looked around at the great oak trees that nestled neighborly with tall pines and runty brush. He remembered the one autumn when the forest breathed with an early cold spell and they had stopped on the path and held each other close.

"Don't get any funny ideas, girl. I just need to warm up a little."

She just smiled at him and held him tighter.

"I save my funny ideas for men that have big mansions and thick billfolds."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," he had replied, saying his line as he always had when they playfully pretended to bicker and fuss at each other.

The old man began walking again and felt the pain of his loss gentle a little bit as he looked around at the beautiful forest. The brightly colored leaves gently rustled in the breeze as if they were waving to him, happy to see an old friend that had been away too long. Birds skittered throughout their branches, singing and chirping to him and each other. He wondered if they felt he was an intruder or if they were just curious. A squirrel climbed up a giant oak tree carrying an acorn in its mouth.

"Better hurry, little buddy. Winter is following me real close."

How Jenny would have loved the forest on this day! She had shared with the old man his love of cool breezes and slightly darkened skies that often came with the arrival of autumn. If she were with him now they would be holding hands and listening to the skittering leaves and musical moans that came from limbs and branches caressing each other. Birdsongs and the occasional croak of a hawk would complete the symphony of peaceful solitude that seemed to be played out just for them.

The old man kept walking and remembering. He rounded a bend in the path and stopped short. He would always remember this particular spot. It was here that Jenny and he had left the path and crept through the woods taking care to be very quiet though there had been no one else around for miles on that day. Like children who were doing something naughty they stealthily snaked through the woods. Eventually they had found a small meadow, an oasis in the forest surrounded by cedar trees and brush. The clearing was carpeted by cool, green grass which beckoned to them.

Their love making that day was tenderly unhurried, easy and natural with the soft passion only known by lovers who are unafraid to give themselves completely to each other. Afterwards they had slept in each other's arms, safe and secure in an intimate love that few people would ever know.

The old man shook off his memory and continued down the path. It would not be much longer until he reached the end of his journey. He felt himself growing stronger and his halting steps grew more confident and sure. He knew that he would soon be at the end of the path and could finally rest.
A few more minutes and a final twist to the trail and he was there.

The path ended in a small open place free of any brush. A boulder thrust its way from the ground and the old man walked over to it and sat down. Just a few feet in front of the boulder the clearing ended at the edge of a cliff that plunged hundreds of feet below to a small, rocky stream. Across the chasm the forest continued on as it had for thousands of years.

The old man sat and caught his breath, arms on his knees and his head hanging low. After a few minutes he straightened up and gazed all around him. The trees bordering the clearing were suddenly still for the breeze had died. Their orange and yellow leaves were still and seemed to be holding their breath. The birds had gone silent.

The old man stood up shakily and walked over to the edge of the cliff. He looked down at the stream far below and wondered if there were any fish in it worth catching. He saw Jenny's smiling face in front of him and felt her presence deep in his heart. His feet were at the edge of the cliff and he heard the scratchy sound of loose dirt and pebbles falling away into the depths below. The old man took a deep breath and told himself that it was time to finish his walk.