We walked in cool shadows and warm sunshine on a day before the hard cold arrived, over sharp hills and foot bridges, past a bubbling spring and under great outcroppings of rock that drew the Boy’s attention. It was a good start to the New Year several days after it had formally begun.
“This is beautiful,” the Boy said, and it made my heart glad. I want to take him someday to see big mountains and walk deep canyons, to camp under skies unmarred for miles by the cast-off electric glow of even the smallest of towns, what astronomers term “light pollution,” to see the Milky Way paint the night sky from one horizon to the next with a brilliant light so dazzling it’s hard to believe it could be silent. But there are wonderful sights in smaller scale closer to home, close enough for a Saturday afternoon drive to offer all the walking we’d want, and it was important to me and my future plans that he liked it of his own accord. I hadn’t told him what to look for or hinted what we’d find. When we came to the stone outcroppings on the side of a Tishomingo County hill he exclaimed of his own wonder and let his imagination fly.
“Is this where outlaws hid in the pioneer days?” he asked, and I said it was.
Archeologists have found evidence of humans living on the land encompassed by Tishomingo State Park as long ago as 7000 B.C., and it’s easy to see why. The appeal of mountains and rivers is not an invention of modern real estate men, it’s a draw as old as mankind. The time that’s passed since the earliest human footprints were laid there is scarcely a hiccup on the geologic scale, so yes, when they stood beneath the bluffs and drank from the springs and watched the strong river roll by, it looked very much like this.
In his pocket he had an empty plastic capsule of the sort grocery store vending machines use to sell choking hazards. He had me open and close it a dozen times as he added sand or removed leaves, small souvenirs for his backpack. We’re good about taking only pictures and leaving only footprints, but the loose earth and plant matter he picked up was certain to rot or wash away away sooner than later. Being carried to a small boy’s room a little further downstream to inspire memories seemed an acceptable diversion.
Along the trail, we had a stern talk about good behavior and general recklessness and how he’s not grown yet, and as we walked further he digested this and added it to the shelves of his mind. Some lessons are better taught outdoors, if only because the solitude allows pride to heal where only the trees can see.
Time and silence and a long walk away from distraction can heal adult worries, too. God is with us always, but in these places it’s much easier to hear Him. It’s a timeless peace, found where hills stand sentry over valleys, where waters run deep and crows light high atop pines, anywhere the quiet can be heard.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.