The boy stood at the edge of the felled tree that spanned over the flowing creek below.
His legs shook, his body was bent slightly, with arms extended downward ready for the moment when he’d lose his balance and fall.
“I’m scared,” he told his father, who stood on the ground just a few feet in front of him.
“But you have to come with me,” came the reply. “You can’t stay where you are, and you can’t go back the way we came.”
Their path had taken them to the creek, where the water and years had carved out a canyon in the soil over. The banks were too steep to climb; going down to the water offered no path forward. There was no bridge or trail to cross. But nature had offered its own way, a tall Cottonwood, which once found life by the water’s edge now fallen as the water eroded the ground that held it in place.
The boy sat frozen. He looked down and saw the water rushing by, pushing dead timber along with it. He looked back, slightly, and could see the safe land he had once enjoyed. But he couldn’t look for long, the shifting twisted his balance. He looked ahead and saw his father, safely on the other side, feet firmly set.
Still he was scared. The path along the tree had been challenging, but not overly difficult. But this last step, the one that moved him from the tree to the ground, stopped him. He had tried, lifting his left leg off the tree, but the movement made him unsteady. So he set his foot back down, and waited. Here, at least, he had balance. He had safety. If needed he could sit down, straddle his legs and arms on the trunk and stay.
But that, he also knew, would only work for a while. The tree offered a path to somewhere else, but it provided nothing that could sustain him. For that he had two choices – turn around and walk back the way he came, or take this one step forward, toward a new place.
He thought in place for a moment.
Turning around would require him to balance on this trunk, shift his feet and his body slowly around, and then walk the long way back to the other side. Once there, he realized, he’d have to take the same step off the log toward land that now faced him. He would still need to take one step to move from where he was to where he wanted to be. But instead of one step, he’d have to take many more to undo what he had already done, to get to one step not so unlike the one he faced here.
He gave one last glance behind him. He remembered when he stepped from the land to the tree, and that hadn’t seemed so hard. It seemed exciting, in fact, to be stepping into the unknown, to walk into something so dangerous with a sense that it could be done.
But here, on the edge of this transition, he knew that there was something final. That this one step would move him to something new, and that once he was there, he couldn’t simply go back to where he had been.
He stood and steadied his body. He looked ahead to his father’s eyes.
“Are you ready?” he asked, reaching out his hand toward his son.
The boy took a deep breath, and silently nodded that he was.
His thoughts ran fast. He remembered the walk through the woods to the creek, the birds that sang along the way, the current under his feet as he walked in the air to this point.
He stood straight, spread his legs slightly apart and leaned his weight forward. He reached out his hand to his father.
In one motion, he threw his weight ahead, lifting one leg off the tree and moving it toward the ground ahead. His hand met his father’s and they joined fingers. He felt a surge as his weight was pushed and pulled forward, partly by his own action and partly by his father’s arm.
Then is was over. He, too, stood on this far shore. The log remained over the rushing water, and he turned to take one last look at it.
Then, he turned away from the creek, away from the other shore, and the place that had held him in place for so long.
His eyes met his father’s, who stood silently waiting.
“I’m ready,” the boy said. “Let’s keep going.”
Note: I am determined to keep my regular posting schedule, despite a lot of busyness right now. So I’ve tried something different, writing out a story that’s been in my mind all week, since a lot of people I know will be taking a step into the unknown – some by choice and some by force. I hope the other side is good to you.