Mr. Demers is a vocational counselor in Veneta, Oregon.
While the early afternoon sunshine warmed the wooded hillside, an old man and a little boy slowly wended their way upward toward the top. The old man’s hair was snow-white, and though his chiseled features were covered with wrinkled and leathery skin, his pale blue eyes sparkled and snapped, revealing an ageless spirit in a body that had learned to live well. The little boy was like most little boys of about 7 —chunky, plump, full of bounce and energy, a mind like a sponge, and indulging in the greatest of all his delights, spending a Sunday afternoon climbing a hill with Grandpa.
It was a slow climb, with lots of pauses, to catch one’s breath, to study the trees, the leaves, the shrubs, the bugs, to listen to the birds, and the sound of water bubbling in little brooks and streams, and the wind through the pine needles, and all of the glories that live on a hillside.
The little boy was a fountain of questions, the old man a treasure chest of answers. Grandpa explained why leaves are green, why moss grows heaviest on the north side of trees, and all about last year’s fallen leaves.
Almost before they knew it the top of the hill had been gained, and they sought a place to rest their bones and weary muscles, and to look out upon the vistas below. Grandpa next did what he always did when they were at the top of a hill. They stood up and Grandpa said: "All right, Lad, you’re facing north; what compass direction lies behind you, on your left, and on your right?"
The boy answered brightly: "Behind me is to the south, on my left is to the west, and on my right is to the east."
Grandpa beamed: "Good, boy, good, it pays well to know where you are in relation to the wider world. You’ll note there needs to be a point to start from. Now I know where north is from experience. Without experience you need a compass. But even then it’s well to get above it all every once in a while, so that you can get things in focus, get things in proper relationship to one another. And that’s why, Lad, you and I climb hills on Sunday afternoons."
"Now, Lad, looking to the northeast and out into the valley do you see where those two roads cross?"
"All right, now where they cross what do you see in the north corner?"
"Why — just an empty field, Grandpa."
"Right, Lad, right; and did you know that where the field sets empty now there was once a great house, and it was in that house that your Dad was born?"
"Golly!, I didn’t know that, Grandpa; what happened to the house?"
And with that invitation, the old man launched into one of his thrilling tales of the past. The little boy sat with his elbows on his knees and his chin cradled in his cupped hands as he absorbed, with eager delight, a fascinating story which was a critical part of his history.
When Grandpa finished his story he stood up and turned about to face the south. Pointing down the slope which they had climbed, he said to the boy: "Lad, looking down this slope and out into the meadow below, tell me what you see that you’ve seen before?"
The boy leaped upon an old stump and with enthusiasm scanned the slope below him. His eyes began to open wide as he recognized first one landmark after another, and the words spilled out of him in frenzied delight: "There’s that big, old dead tree, with the grey, splintered top, which you said had probably been struck by lightning. And there’s that big, huge rock, a boulder, and I can even see the big split in its side. And there’s that clearing on the bend of the creek we crossed at the foot of the hill, where you pointed out to me the old, dead tree up ahead. Golly!, Grandpa, now I know why we’d stop now and then and turn around and look at things."
"Right, Lad, right; it’s always good to stop now and then and turn around and look at where you’ve been. There’s more than one side to things and the more you can get to see and recognize the better off you’ll be. Also, Lad, we don’t always get where we’re headed. Despite our best try, we just might have to return the way we came so that we can try again; and its good to know the way back, just in case."
The sun was much closer now to the western horizon as Grandpa said to the boy: "Lad, turn about slowly till you feel the breeze full upon your face, then tell me from whence comes the wind."
The boy did as he was instructed, and stopped when his face was looking into the western rays of the sun: "I can feel the soft wind from out of the west, Grandpa."
"Right, Lad; now ’tis well to know from whence the wind blows, Lad, for it not only carries with it some indication of what the weather might be but it carries the weather with it too. If you can learn to read the signs you may be able to know what’s coming before it comes and be able to make necessary preparations. The clouds in the sky are borne along by the winds and both the wind and the clouds are formed, or are the result of, wondrous things which are happening beyond the horizon, beyond the reach of a man’s eye, or his senses."
"Lad, you must be ever looking, ever searching, ever seeing, ever learning, and aware that you’ll never know it all. It starts when you’re born and it never stops until you’re like that old, grey snag down there, still reaching toward the sky above. Look now, into the west! See those dark clouds in the far distance, see the grey haze which seems ahead of those clouds and moving slowly this way? Well, that might mean some wet weather, and it looks like it’s just far enough off to give us time to return down the hill and home before we get wet; so — let’s be off, Lad."
The years will go by, and this lad will grow into a man, as all lads must do. And what sort of a man might he be?
Well, he’ll probably be a man who knows from whence he came, and where he is going, and why. He’ll no doubt agree with Jose Ortega y Gasset: "The past has reason on its side, its own reason, and if that reason is not admitted, it will return to demand it." And, most of all, he’ll no doubt climb hills on Sunday afternoons with little boys, perhaps his own. And facing from whence the winds prevail, he might agree with Goethe:
In the Endless, self-repeating flows
for evermore the Same.
Myriad arches, springing, meeting, hold at rest the mighty frame.
Streams from all things Love of Living, Grandest Star, and Humblest Clod.
All the straining, all the striving
is Eternal Peace in God.