Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Rebuilding - A Fortress Re-Found in The Forest

During my recent visit to Mamaw Rose's home, my cousins and I decided to venture into the forest. 

We spent countless hours in these woods when we were young- hiking, playing, and pretending all sorts of wonderful things with our crazy childhood imaginations.

During our recent conversation, we recalled memories we had all shared during our days of wandering through the woods of East Tennessee.

My cousins and I learned to appreciate the great outdoors when we were very young. Papa taught us that. We had loved playing outside when we visited our grandparents. 

Recalling the days of "olly, olly, oxen-free" and playing "WAR",  a certain subject was mentioned that required our immediate attention...

following up on that topic was our inevitable next step...


To those outside our little group of explorers, 'the fort' doesn't likely hold any sentimental attachment. For us, it represents all things glorious, wild, and free...

Papa Jim had built a fortress for us when we were children. It was a thing of beauty, we recalled together as we cousins talked about our memories together. 

"Remember the fort?"

"OH MY GOSH! YES. YES! It was so awesome!"

"Wonder if it's still there..."

That's how our latest hike began...

with curiosity, much like the sort we'd experienced during our childhood wilderness exploration days...

"Let's find out."

We walked through the woods together, as we had done so many times as kids. My coordination, I discovered, has declined with age. Stomping on leaves, branches, and small trees that got in my way, I navigated a path that used to be a well-trodden trail which had lead to our fortress. To our surprise and delight, we found this sacred little spot where we'd played together so many years ago. Side walls of stacked rocks still lined the fort's exterior, though the roof had long left the shelter. Papa built this fort for us. Now, standing in the space between two carefully constructed rock walls, I marveled at the effort my late grandfather had made to build a special little playhouse for his grandchildren. 

"I can't believe it's still here!"

"How many trips down the trail do you think Papa made just to carry all these huge rocks?"

"A lot."

Peaceful silence and shared feelings of what we all wanted to say but couldn't, fell over us. Papa made that fort. He made it so well that the walls, even 20 years later, were still in tact. 

Until that moment, I had not fully appreciated 'the fort'. 
After all, as a child, I had thought this spot was awesome- 
I just didn't take note of all the work one man had put into 
making it. 

I wondered how Papa moved all those rocks. How much mud had he used to plaster them together into such tightly compacted walls? 

It could only be explained by the labors of love. 

A dugout still rests between two solidly-grounded trees, rooted in the banks of an old dirt road, where the fort's interior had made a perfect hiding spot.

 Some repairing of the roof would make it just as good as it had ever been. We talked about how we should repair the fort for Papa's great-grandchildren. Because of how much time and effort Papa put into this shelter, repairs we'd need to make are few to restore the place to it's original condition. 

Sometimes, things happen that are difficult to explain by mere chance or coincidence. Jessica, finding a piece of the original camouflage netting material, is one of those things...

At first, I wasn't sure Jessica's excited squeal was founded when she shouted to us from a spot not too far from our re-found fortress. Upon closer examination of the shredded and faded scrap, I was amazed that this little bit of our old fort roof had resurfaced two decades after it's placement in the forest. Jessica and I held the muddied swatch to feel the texture of what had once protected our heads from rain. When sudden storms or showers had threatened our childhood playtime, our fortress- and this little scrap of leftover fort-roof, had kept us safe and dry. 

"I want to keep this."

I don't know why I said that then to my older cousin. It just... came out. I had no concrete plans as to what I'd do with the little shred of fort she now held with me. 

"I think it should stay here," Jessica replied. 

She looked at me and her eyes conveyed understanding. She felt the bittersweet pain of loss with me right then, though she didn't need use of words to confirm that. We both loved the fort. We loved it as children and now we loved it for a deeper reason. Papa had made it. Papa is gone now. The fort is not. 

Jessica and I stood quiet for a moment before she broke the brief silence with, 

"I just mean that, you know- it belongs here, don't you think? It's been here for 20 years, at least...
Maybe we should keep it here, where it always has been."

Jessica says this and my heart feels better as I find myself agreeing completely with what should become of the material she found. 

It should stay there. I should not keep it. It is a memory that all of us shared and still share. It is just a piece of worn netting, but it represents so much more and removing it now seemed silly to me. I would have been embarrassed by my selfish suggestion, were it not for knowing that my cousins completely understood. 

"You're right, Jess. It should stay here...
It does belong here...

...But, where should we put it?"

We selected one of the many broken twigs that covered the earth beneath us. We tied the old fort roof piece to the branch and founded it's new position within the hard ground Papa had packed together as fortress walls. 

The picture above is one of my favorites. It is not beautiful, nor taken with high-resolution... It is my favorite because of what it means to me. It's a favorite because it's a small little miracle that we found it in the first place. The photo above captures the moment that my cousins and I re-found 'The Fort', and the original roof's material just happened to be floating around nearby that day. 

Some people would claim that it's all chance. Life, this moment, and other little 'coincidences' that happen to them. It's odd, don't you think? 

I mean, this whole story is just 'chance', right? It's okay if you believe that. 

I don't.

What I believe is that there was a lesson waiting for our discovery on the day we set out to find our old fortress. For me, it's a lesson of appreciation and gratitude... of love.

 All of those things were to be re-found, in addition to the fortress, on the day we shared Papa's love, in childlike wonder and thankful remembrance for all he gave to us...

Picking up the pieces after loss is difficult. 
(understatement of the year, perhaps..) 
Knowing that I am not alone and having others share with me in moments like these...
That's what has made all the difference in my world without Papa Jim. 

Remembering him is easy.
 It comes naturally. 
It hurts to remember, sometimes.
 The pain is not easy to bear. 
I am fortunate that I don't have to carry it alone.

Each of us were given beautiful and joyous memories 
that push us onward. 

We pick up the pieces. 

We rebuild...

Just like Papa 
did for us. 

He would've laughed at his now-adult grandkids, I think. We aren't quite the trail navigators we used to be, but we re-found the fort in a graceless fashion as we tromped through the woods together that day. 

Katie and James, Jessica's children, had also accompanied us. Both of my little cousins (more like niece and nephew, really..) 

Papa would think that's funny. 
Though he did not walk with us on the way to the fortress, 
part of him was still there.

I'm glad we found it together. 

"The Fort"
(February, 2014)

(All Photos Copyright 2014.ReginaHodge.) 

No comments: