A walk in the woods, for my father

My father used to tell us to turn our music down. By us, I mean me and my sister, who wanted to hear our pop music—songs from Air Supply or Commodores, Prince, Foreigner, Journey. We hogged the stereo at home, and on family car rides—especially on long road trips—my father gave in to letting us tune the radio to our stations. Except the volume was never quite loud enough for us, and was always too high for him. “Can you turn it up, just a little?” we’d say from the back seat, craning our necks toward the speakers behind our seats.

When we rode with just my mother, she was always game for our music and our volume. She knew the latest hits and had her own favorite songs, probably because she was the one who drove us to lessons and practices and friends’ houses. But my father? He didn’t know our music and didn’t care to know it, and that might have been why, but probably it was just that he didn’t like anything loud, so while we were always trying to crank it up, he was always asking us to turn it down.

But here’s the rub: I was with my parents last week, and my mother stuck in a mixed CD of music she liked—and that frankly, I liked, too—and I asked her to turn it down. Just a little. Or a lot. She looked at me and then my father then back to me and said, “You’re becoming just like him.”

Becoming? More like became. I’ve long ago realized we have a lot in common—my physical structure is mostly his, and my love of words and writing, and we are both prone to see the best in people, even when the worst screams at us. I hope I have even a tenth of his kindness. I hope I have his heart. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that maybe I have more.

When my sister and I were young—but especially when we were teenagers—and it was vacation or summertime, my father would urge us to stop watching television and go outside. He hated wasting a sunny day, and he hated, almost as much, our wasting a sunny day. My mother was content to be inside with us, watching something light on TV or just hanging out, but my father? He tried to corral us to the outdoors, and sometimes he succeeded, and other times he would stand in the doorway to the room we were lounging in, and we would blankly look up at him, immune to his coaxing, and then go back to whatever we were doing.

Now? It’s hard for me to sit still on a sunny day, to not do at least one outside activity (at minimum) if the weather permits it. It feels, well, wasteful if I don’t.

Today I went for an early morning walk in the neighborhood, but it didn’t feel like enough. We had rain yesterday, on and off throughout the afternoon, and today’s forecast was mostly clear. Shouldn’t I be out in it? The sun and the trees and the shifting but thin, white clouds were calling me, coaxing me. So I went with my husband, friends and dog for a second walk, this time in the woods, and I listened to the creek tumbling over rocks and watched the glisten of light on the leaves. I saw blossoming rhododendron, and pine trees and cliffs jutting toward sky, and I thought of my father and all he had taught me, and why.