Walt watched his dad take two pair of snowshoes from the car. The boy always wanted to try and walk on top of the snow. And this was a neat chance to learn. After all, rabbits and their furry feet did it all the time.
"Do you think you can handle these?" his father asked.
"Yeah, I guess so," Walt answered.
"You guess so. Is that all you can say?"
Dad was in a grouchy mood today. Walt didn't really want to come on this hike because of that. But he did.
"Okay, come and watch how I do it," dad said.
Walt watched carefully.
"First, the toe of each foot steps through a special knot made in the lamp wick. This material doesn't stretch or break, even when wet. And is stronger than leather," his father said.
Walt knew his dad understood the ways of the woods. And the boy wanted to be brave and wise like him.
"Sure, you're watching?"
"Now stand still while I fix yours just this one time." Then his father wrapped both loose ends from the lamp wick around his son's ankles, tying a bow in front.
Walt tried watching every movement but the beauty of the forest captured his gaze. After they put on their packs, they were off.
"I'll go first," his father said. "That should make it easier for you to follow my path through the deep snow. Okay?"
"Cool." Walt tried walking the same way as his dad. Slide each snowshoe carefully over the other as you lifted your foot forward making sure the wooden tail touched the ground. This was hard work and tiresome after awhile.
"How's school?" his father suddenly asked.
Walt knew this would come up and maybe even turn into a debate. Going to school every day was bad enough, talking about it during a hike was even worse. He had a hard time getting along with other kids in Grade Eight. They teased him because liked reading more than physical activities. Besides he knew he was short for his age.
"You doing okay?" his father asked.
I bet he's just wanting to have an argument, Walt thought. "School is okay," Walt mumbled.
"Then how come your Math and English are in trouble, chum?"
Here we go. "Dad, I don't want to talk about it right now, okay?" Walt wished he hadn't said it like that, but what the heck, he came today to have fun. The snow was soft and fluffy. And the wind blew sharply against his face. Good thing he listened to his mother and brought a scarf.
"Keep lifting your feet higher," his father growled. "You don't want to trip on a sneaky branch under the snow."
Walt was tired of dad telling him to, "Watch out for this and watch out for that. Cross the street carefully. Keep an eye out for the train when you cross the tracks and more Yakkity-Yak." Walt wasn't a baby anymore. "How about a rest?" he finally asked.
"Already, tuckered out?"
Always criticizing, thought Walt. When will he ever stop? "When I grow up, I'll move so far away I'll..."
"Watch out!!" his father yelled too late.
Ducking under some branches his dad accidentally let one go, smacking the boy in the face. Walt was flung backwards, then twisted and fell sideways. His ankle suddenly turned into one horrific throb of pain. At first, dad was angry then began to laugh. But he stopped when Walt began to cry. Double pain in his ankle and face wouldn't go away and tears helped soften the throbbing.
"Oh great," his father said. He rushed across the snow to help Walt. The snow was about three feet deep so it was hard to take off the boy's snowshoes. Helping the boy to his feet made the man gasp.
"Gosh, you're heavy," he said. "Must be all those muscles," he added.
It's been a long time since dad cared about me this much, thought Walt.
His father walked him over to a tree then using one of his snowshoes as a shovel, began to dig at the snow. He made a circle large enough for two people and kept going until he hit the frozen ground.
"For a fire," his father said before Walt asked any questions. "If I don't remove most of the snow, it will melt and put the fire out. Now, don't move and I'll get a log for you to sit on." Stepping into his snowshoes he shuffled off. Before long his father had Walt warm and snug while sitting on the log. The fire's warmth was taking away numbness in the boys' fingers.
"You make a good fire, dad." Walt tried to smile.
"I'm kind of tough on you sometimes," his father answered gruffly.
"Sort of," Walt mumbled.
"How do you mean, son?"
It's been a long time since he called me son, Walt thought. "You pick on me a lot." There he said it. Would his dad be upset?
"I know I do," the man quietly answered.
His dad even knows he does? Walt thought, shocked. "Well, not all the time..." Walt tried to be kind.
"Let's look at that ankle," his father said, gently taking Walt's foot. He removed the boot and checked around his ankle for any broken bones.
"Feels better already dad. And your neat fire sure helps," the boy said bravely. Both dad and son said nothing for a while. Walt watched flames lick at the wood.
His father placed a large piece of deadwood on the fire, then asked, "I bet you're hungry, son." It was more a statement than a fact.
"Sure am," the boy said. He watched his father pull out a thermos of hot chocolate from his backpack, pouring each of them a cup. Then brought out aluminum foil packages of food and placed them on the hot coals. "I'm starved," Walt said, licking his lips and looking around at the forest.
Tall trees nearly blocked out the sky but patches of blue with white wisps for clouds peeked back. Smoke from their fire hurt his eyes but it didn't matter right now. It was kind of neat sitting here beside his dad. No one else was around, just the two of them. Walt liked it. "Dad?" he asked.
"What son?" His father answered, fanning the smoke-filled air.
Walt could barely see his father. Was he breathing in too much?
"I always liked that parka your mom bought you," his father said, continuing the conversation. "I knew it should be warm enough, especially today. Right?"
"Dad?" Walt asked again. He wished his father would be quiet for once. Words tumbled around inside his throat. And he wanted to get them out.
"What is it Walt?" The man looked back at his brave young son. He's growing up so quickly, he thought. "Maybe I shouldn't be so hard on you, Walt. But it's such a tough world out there. I want you to grow up strong."
"Father!" This time Walt was more forceful. "I'm trying to say something. Please be quiet!" Words now re-arranged themselves on the tip of his tongue and they had to come out.
His father began to laugh as he watched an emotional struggle displayed across his son's face. The boy was sitting on his wet behind scolding good old dad. Just 10 minutes into their hike Walt had the spill. And he wasn't crying anymore. He seemed to be handling things quite well. After they ate, he would take Walt aside and tell him how proud he was of his boy. "What son? What is it?"
"I just want to tell you..." Walt hesitated. His legs still felt the coldness of the day. But that didn't matter. These words could not be held back. They spilled from his lips like snow flakes which now began to fall.
It brought a special smile from dad, when Walt finally got the words out. "Dad, I love you," he said.
* * *
Richard & Esther Provencher 2005
My wife, Esther and I really enjoy writing. It is an excellent salve, in addition to prayers, a great wife and family during my continuing recovery from a stroke/aneurysm. You can contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org re comments on our work. We live in Truro, Nova Scotia, Canada. Pray for others.