There was a time when I lived with my son in a small town in northern BC. It was the kind of place where people went to carve out a new life for themselves, myself included. Most of the people I had encountered in the years that I lived there were independent, frontier spirited people who loved living close to the land and all of her elements.
The winters could be very severe, the kind of cold that demanded reckoning. When the warmer weather of spring started to softly make a way through the winter, my son and I decided to go for a walk in one of the community forests. The land these trails were on may have been donated to the town, once having been wild before development started creeping into the community. We had been on this particular trail many times, and knew it well. It cut deep into the bush and had a fairly steep hill at its center. It was at the top of this hill that we found ourselves, that spring day, in a predicament. The hill had become a sheet of ice, and we had not noticed how bad it was on our ascent, but realized that descending on either side would be treacherous.
We decided to make the best of it and started our descent, hanging on to trees and sliding down slowly, sometimes in a sitting position. We stopped part way down the hill, holding on to a tree. We were laughing, but I realized that the situation could quickly turn scary. One of us could lose a footing and become injured. I didn’t want to show my son my fear, but I’m sure he sensed it. It was at this time that the most amazing thing happened.
An old woman appeared at the top of the hill, it seemed out of nowhere, as we had not heard her approach. We watched her as she made her way down the hill effortlessly. It was almost as if her feet were not touching the ice, as if she was floating on top of it. It remains one of the most beautiful and surreal things I have ever seen. My son looked at me and I knew we were thinking the same thing. I have always been sensitive to spiritual things, and knew my son had the same sensitivity. My skin shivered with something other than the spring cold as I watched this old woman, in her effortless, graceful descent down that icy hill.
She looked at my son and I clinging to a tree, and said that she was going to help us get down the hill. She told us how to position our feet in a certain way that would give us traction on the ice. “Follow me”, she said. And we did. We followed her down the hill, seemingly effortlessly now.
Once we reached the bottom of the hill, we walked with her, thanking her for the help and guidance. I asked her if she lived near the trail, curious to know about this old woman who gracefully seemed to float above the ice. We both listened as she told us about being a young girl, riding her horse through the bush in which we walked, and how she learned to walk on the ice. She did not tell us anything about her present circumstances, but reminisced about being a girl in the bush.
As we all walked together we approached the fork in the trail. The left fork went deeper into the bush and worked its way around a large loop. The right fork would lead us back to the car. The woman started to take the left fork and then must have sensed our hesitation. She turned around and looked at me and asked us if we were coming. I knew in my very bones that it was a question that had way more implication than physically following her. I knew on a deep level that she was asking us to go somewhere else with her, to follow her to a place where things were not limited to what I had understood and lived and breathed, but a place that I had occasionally glimpsed and sensed was there. The place where spirit is seen.
As I stood still and considered her question I thought back to the times that my son and I had taken the left fork and walked the loop. On one of our earlier walks on this loop, my son had noticed something partially hidden on the side of the trail, emerging from the ground. When we had stopped to look closer, we realized it was a grave marker, and it was inscribed with one word, Mom. We had been curious about it, and vaguely uneasy, wondering if someone had actually been buried there, but figured it was more of a memorial for a woman who had loved that particular place.
We thanked the old woman for her kindness and for sharing her memories of the bush. My son and I chose to walk the right fork of the trail. As we walked back toward our car, we knew she was returning to the place she loved.
Deana Lafleur 2017