Something about ninety-degree heat and sore feet can bring a man to lust for shade, a cool breeze, and a bit of water for drinking. He might find his wife and their dog seeking to join him there. Always good to share, of course, especially when there’s plenty for everybody anyway.
Like a few miles of bad road or a really neat restaurant in a town you didn’t even know existed, hiking in the mountains can bring unexpected appreciation for the small things in life. Small things like a pine tree only twenty feet tall with a few flat boulders underneath it. It’s just plain lovely how much difference a little shade and a light breeze can make on a hot day. Kind of like appreciation and encouragement from someone you respect. Especially when it’s sincere. Occasionally, one encounters other demonstrations of sincerity.
As Randa and I rested and the dog panted slightly more heavily than we did, a trio of hikers about a third of our age came down the path. The two guys paused in the shade but still on the trail. Their female companion didn’t pause at all. Gushing with enthusiasm and as familiar as if we’d all gone to high school together, she walked right up to us, “A bus driver told me about this: This tree smells like butterscotch and vanilla but you have to push your nose right against the pink part of the bark to smell it.” While her two male companions waited with slightly red faces, she stepped around Randa. Grabbing the tree in a big hug, the self-appointed naturalist pushed her nose against the pink part of the bark and drew in a slow, deep breath.
“Ahh,” she murmured, “butterscotch and vanilla.”
Just as abruptly as she entered, she exited stage left and walked right on past the two guys. One of them looked at us, grinned sheepishly and shrugged his shoulders. Then he turned and headed on down the trail behind the other two.
As it turns out, she was right but I did not allow Randa to take a picture of me verifying that particular information. Being suspected of being a closet tree-hugger is bad enough; I’d have to turn in my Man Card if it got out that I was also a bark sniffer.
Pride and prejudice ignored, there are many good things in life that we may never discover for ourselves. I thank God for strangers who are willing to share such insight and awareness, even if the particular mode and moment of sharing might seem a bit awkward and unexpected. Otherwise, I’d have never known about the subtle fragrances of pine tree bark in the Rockies. There have been other enlightenments along life’s trails.
It is through moments such as that some have come to know the power of redeeming grace, the unexpected liberation of salvation, the simple sharing of a cup of cold water given in the name of a man who died on a tree stripped of its own shade.
And then he continued right on up the trail he’d planned all along for us to follow, drawn by something more soothing than the smell of butterscotch and vanilla, something stronger than all our scars.