Grammy had a nature trail on her farm. It wasn’t made with mechanical tools of any sort, just Grammy’s feet. She walked the same path every day for the 30 years she owned her farm. Each time she walked the trail, she flung random seeds to the left and right of her on the path. Over time, the trail filled with flowers and fruit trees, and bushes with edible berries. She never tended to any of it, but if you ever wanted to see what the Garden of Eden looked like, my bet is that Grammy’s nature trail came close.
Each time we went to see Grammy I would beg her to take me for a walk and she always obliged, though she never walked me all the way to the end of the trail. When I asked her when I could see the end of the trail, she always gave the same reply: “when the time is right. Best we turn back now, save some beauty for another day.”
Grammy died on the first day of spring. She left the farm to my dad in her will. She also left me a small, pale pink envelope. When I opened it, the simple note inside said, “It’s time now. Walk the trail.” I drove to the farm and parked just outside her kitchen window, the way my parents always did.
I got out of the car and let the yellow gravel crunch under my feet. I stared at the old yellow farmhouse for a moment, maybe hoping that Grammy would come bursting out the side screen door that always closed with a slap sound. I smiled at the memory of how she would always yell at us grand kids to “come in or stay out,” and “if y’all make that screen slam one more time.” She did nothing whenever we did though.
I made my way around the side of the house and down the slight incline to the little narrow opening where Grammy’s nature trail began. To the natural eye it looked like there was nothing but a forest behind her home, but as you approached the edge of the trees you could see where hostas lounged at the opening of a dirt path about a foot wide.
When you began walking down the path, the outside world disappeared as the sounds of nature enveloped you: birds chirping; wind blowing through the trees; the snap of dead twigs giving way under your feet; the crunch of leaves long since released from their homes in the trees. Pops of color from sunflowers, geraniums, impatiens, and vinca vines made scattered borders along the trail and gently suggested where your next footstep should be.
I made my way through the woods, excited that I would finally get to see the end of the trail I had longed to see all my life, but also with tears falling occasionally down my cheeks because this moment was supposed to be mine and Grammy’s together. I stopped every now and again to look at her sunflowers and geraniums and the memory of a conversation we had fell over me like a warm blanket.
“Grandma, why are the colors of your flowers so bright?” Her answer was a thoughtful one that stayed with me for the rest of my life.
“Well child,” she began, “it’s because I see them for more than just decorations of the season. Most folk only think about flowers when spring comes knockin’ on winter’s door. They get all in a frenzy to decorate their porches and flower beds with all the pretty blooms. But once they got them in the ground, they don’t pay them no never mind again unless someone mentions how pretty they are. They forget to stop and just see all that beauty they created.”
“I don’t understand, Grandma. What do you mean they forget to see? They’re right there where they planted them. They see them every day.”
Grandma put her arm around me and chuckled a little. “They know the flowers are there, child, but they don’t see them. It takes more to seeing than just looking at something.”
“I still don’t get it, Grandma,” I said as I hung my head.
“Don’t hang your head too low, child. I’m gonna teach you how to see, but you got to do it with your heart and not just your eyes.”
“How do I do that, Grandma?”
“Well, like I said, most folk plant those flowers and they get to watering them so the plants will be healthy, but they treat those flowers like some folk treat trophies. They keep them out where everyone can see them, but they don’t appreciate them unless someone else notes their beauty. Flowers work hard in their own right. They soak in the sun’s rays and they take all that warm energy and turn it into a rainbow of colors: reds, and pinks, and oranges, and yellows, and purples, and whites. And some flowers can mix those colors together in the most beautiful ways. Just make your heart weep. They grow humbly where you plant them and display their beauty for only one reason. Do you know what that reason is?”
I thought about this for a minute. “So the bees have some place to land?”
Grandma chuckled again. “Well, one might think that, if you look with the eye, or with your intellect. But there’s another reason beyond that. They do it to make our souls happy.”
“You mean they are alive and have feelings, Grandma?”
“Of course, child! Their only purpose in life is to make us happy. The secret to enjoying life is right there in front of you, wrapped up in all the colors of those pretty little leaves. They are sharing the secret to happiness, but folks don’t listen.”
“What’s the secret, Grandma?”
Grandma stopped walking then. She got behind me and put her hands on my shoulders. I turned my head to the side and looked up at her waiting for her to answer.
“Don’t look at me,” she took a deep breath in and slowly let it out, “look out there at nature and take a deep breath.”
I looked out in front of me and followed my grandmother’s breath, deep and slow, though I wasn’t sure why.
And then it happened.
Almost like magic, all the colors of the flowers came alive in a way I had never seen before. They each began to glow with their own auras. I gasped. My grandmother knew what I was seeing without me having to explain myself.
“Yes, child, now you’re seeing with your heart.”
“What’s going on, Grandma?”
“The secret to life, child. Energy. Everything in nature has it, but flowers and sunrises are the most potent.”
“Why haven’t I seen this before, Grandma?”
“Because you ain’t been still long enough to notice. It’s always there, baby, but you got to let your soul be still.”
“Like when people say to stop and smell the roses?”
Grandma leaned down, rested her chin on my head, and folded her arms around me. “That’s exactly right, baby. That isn’t just a saying. When you stop to smell a rose, you are making all the business of life stand still for a moment and blocking out all the noise. You only see that flower and the simplicity and the beauty of it all. You are living in the moment and not thinking about your worries or what you will do the next minute, or next day, or next month or next year. And that’s the secret of life, child.”
“So that’s why your flowers are so bright and beautiful?”
Grammy nodded, “I honor them and they shower me with their glory.”
“How do you honor them?”
“By coming out here every day and thanking them for sharing the secret of life with me. And when you take time to show appreciation, whether it’s to people or things, those things return your appreciation in kind by giving their beauty right back to you. And the cycle never ends. And that’s why my flowers are so bright.”
“And beautiful,” I added.
The snap of a twig jolted me from my memory. Just ahead of me I saw a deer. It turned and looked at me and twitched its ears forward and back, then turned and leaped away into the forest. I smiled a bit at its majesty and continued on down the trail. As I walked, I felt Grammy near me. She always told me that when God called her back home, I could still be with her. She said all I had to do was come here and still my soul and she’d be here with me, whispering to me through the colors of the flowers.
After some time passed, I came to the end of the trail and the sight of it made me catch my breath. There was a large oak tree with huge sprawling arms that spread low to the ground. The sun shone perfectly down on it as if it was letting me know that this was the spot. A red cardinal flew and landed on a branch. Then I noticed something: a sturdy old workbench with one drawer.
I walked up to it and ran my hand along it, feeling the grooves worn into its surface by time and weather. Curiosity got the best of me and I gently nudged the drawer open. In it was a large green metal box. Somehow I knew it was for me and I opened it. Inside lay a worn, thick brown leather journal.
I climbed up into a branch of that old oak tree, leaned back, and began to read.
“Dearest child. I knew the day would come when you would reach the end of this trail. I also knew that I wouldn’t be with you when you did. Call it a hunch. I wanted to leave behind something more intimate than just land for you. Over the years as we have shared our walks together, I have watched you grow, and God has shown me things about you. I have recorded them here. Some things have already come to pass. Other things you won’t understand until the appointed time, but don’t stress, child. Just come here to this bench and work it all out in whatever way your heart tells you to. For years, this workbench was my solace. Now it belongs to you. One day, you’ll leave it to the three children God has shown me will be yours. Be good to yourself. Be good to others. Most importantly, child, don’t forget the secret of life you learned here in God’s garden.