Ice, cracking and buckling, broke the pristine silence. A pair of size four footprints led away from the hole in the river, up the riverbank, and through the woods. Those footprints belonged to me and I was running as fast as my little legs would carry me. It was half a mile between our front porch and the Mackinaw River and I knew every inch of land because I travelled it often.
It took me longer than it should’ve to climb the snowy embankment and escape the woods to reach Curry’s farm. I dodged untilled corn stalks. I leapt over tractor divots. Reaching the edge of the farm, I clambered over the barbed-wire fence, but my coat caught on a barb. I tugged until my coat tore free. Uh-oh. I ran along the fence line through drift and grass, heavy breathing broke the countryside stillness. Somewhere in the distance a dog barked and a cow mooed as if urging me on. Thank you, I’m going as fast as I can I thought. Finally able to move from farmland to gravel road, I picked up my pace until I crossed old county highway nine and ran down our driveway. I was out of breath when I burst through the door to find mom in the kitchen. I blurted out what happened.
That was ten years ago, but now I’m back from college. Friends and neighbors who’ve gathered at the house for a barbecue can’t believe how much I resemble mom but have dad’s spirit. Of course I have dad’s spirit. Until I was ten years old, dad would walk me down to the river every week in the summer to teach me how to fish. It was gross at first, but I grew to love it. Dad couldn’t have been happier than if he’d had a son. In winter we’d walk down to the river just to talk and let the dogs run. He’d always have to call at least one of the dogs off the ice so they wouldn’t fall through. I miss those days. When I tell mom I want to walk down to the river, she gives me a sad smile and asks me to hurry back.
I retrace my steps from the house down the driveway and back over county highway nine. Today I can take my time traversing the fence line so I stop occasionally to pick some wildflowers. They smell like honey and stolen youth. The spot where I tore my coat is now a snap to climb and it’s even easier to navigate the rows of knee-high corn. I gather more flowers as I pick my way through the woods and head down the riverbank. Reaching the river, my heart sinks. It’s not the same as I remember. I take a lingering moment to smell each flower before casting it into the river.
“I’m sorry, dad,” I say, “I’m so sorry. I ran as fast as I could. Please forgive me. Please?”
Inspired by Loreena McKennitt – Snow