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  • Writer's pictureTodd Stevens


The air is like one of those summer mornings when you walk outside and it’s calm and settled and there isn’t a fraction of a degree that could make it feel more perfect than it already does. It’s quiet, but in the big, deep green oaks that form the edge of a mysterious and shaded woods, songbirds call melodies to one another. There is nothing shrill or cackling or repetitive about the songs these birds sing, they are hypnotic, like the babbling of a little brook. The sky is the perfect blue of a robin’s egg, set off by cottony clouds so white they look like snow balls suspended in the sky, motionless and happy. There is absolutely no sound of anything mechanical, no airliner roaring in the background, no far off truck rumbling up a hill, no car horns, no lawn mowers, not one unnatural sound of a machine to be heard. The road I follow is made of dark red stones that have been there since ancient times, no two are the same size and yet they fit together like jigsaw puzzle pieces. The road runs through a meadow, and the meadow runs up to the base of some heavily timbered broadleaf forests that cover the rolling hills. Backing this small valley and rolling hills are massive peaks, sharp as swords and covered about half way down with the most pristine and pure snow that can be imagined, almost as if the snow were bleached three shades whiter. The meadow is covered with lush and dense grass like fuzzy velvet. Throughout the meadow are every manner of wildflowers. Purple, red, violet, and brilliant shocking orange and yellow ones too. Butterflies as beautiful and colorful as the flowers, bob and float here and there, sometimes landing delicately on big blossoms and slowly fanning their wings. I walk down the road through the meadow and it gradually climbs a little rise and as I crest that rise I realize there is an unidentifiable and unbelievable source of pure, warm light, but no sun. I stop and search the horizon for the sun and it’s nowhere to be found, just light in an indescribable mixture of colors and shades, not psychedelic, but shimmering like the iridescence of mother pearl. Somehow I’m not concerned with the lack of a sun, I understand that it’s okay. After cresting the rise I see a small town. The houses are made of great hand hewn beams, black from age, and there are big cream colored stones worked into these houses in an extremely pleasing manner, the chimneys are made of the same creamy yellow stones, but they look smoother, like they were milled or polished in a river over thousands of years. I start the descent down the hill into the town and to my right I notice berry patches with fruit trees scattered here and there. The soil is black as tar and the plants are starkly green in contrast. The fruit the plants produce is so incredibly vibrant, and covered with fine dew and almost begging me to pick them. Nothing is in a row or straight line, yet everything seems to mesh so perfectly, blackberries and strawberries and apple and peach trees all growing together and forming a beautiful mosaic of color and spacing so pleasing to the eye it’s nearly impossible to look away. I pick a shining red strawberry, its seeds white like pearls, and the size of an apple. I take a bite and the flavor is astonishing, bursting from the fruit in more than just taste, it affects me mentally and even the feel and look of the fruit is part of the experience. The road winds through the town and I follow it. The houses are all made from the same timbers and stone, and they all seem to somehow meld into the surrounding environment. They are partially built into hillsides and the trees near them are also part of the architecture. The great spiderweb root systems of the trees wrap around arched doorways and form portions of the walls. There are no hard lines or continuous pieces at all. It looks as if the builders were given a load of odds and ends of stone and timbers and then used magical architecture to build the homes, incorporating the hillsides and trees into the plans. I find myself searching for straight, strong, unbroken order, but I cannot find it…and somehow it is so pleasing, this land of perfect, mismatched order.

I slowly make my way through the town, marveling at how everything twists and turns and runs into the next thing and it’s all so flawless. It dawns on me that there are no people, I ask myself, where is everyone? But I feel no concern, just curiosity. There is an overwhelming sense that everything will be good.

I follow the road through the town and it leads to a massive arched bridge made from that same pleasing hodgepodge of stone and timber. From the middle of the bridge I look down at the river. It is the most intense bluegreen color I have ever seen, like liquid turquoise and emerald flowing in perfect harmony, and yet it is so clear that I can pick out individual rocks in 15 feet of water. At the edge of the river are tall, thin reeds, masses of them, like green brush bristles. Red and blue dragonflies chase each other around, their wings making a papery buzzing, before perching on the very tips of the reeds. I have a feeling that I don’t want to leave that spot, that I want to stand on the bridge and watch the twisting current of the river and the dance of the dragonflies…forever. I feel like I could do that, but I move on.

The road narrows on the other side of the bridge and it splits into a half dozen little veins that spread out and drop down into a huge grassy bowl. I walk down red stone steps into this deep valley and as I do I realize that what from above I thought was the top of a normal forest, was actually the top of massive trees. The trees are indescribably huge, 60, 70, 80 feet across the stump. Where the roots rise from the earth and flow into the tree are deep crevices that smooth into a solid trunk, gray and slick, 100 feet or so off the ground. I stop and stare in a combination of shock and astonishment. There are no branches until the trees hit 200 feet or so off the ground, and each of those branches are bigger than the largest sequoia ever known. There is a hand hewn path chopped into the side of each tree, exposing ox blood red wood underneath, the path is polished shiny from thousands of people passing over it. A handrail made of that same red wood is fixed from below in curved ribs that come up every few feet, and then a solid piece forms the curved handrail. The stairs wind around and around the tree like a spiral staircase until they disappear into the dark canopy far above. Rope and wood suspension bridges connect the different trees to each other in an incredible and elaborate kind of tree top city. Mist moves here and there through the forest like an ethereal phantom. I can see ornate doors and window sills carved into the great trees and I wonder how long it took to whittle the Celtic knots, and dragons, and forest scenes, and I am amazed how anyone could possess that much talent.

The stairs continue to descend and I follow them until I find myself walking on the forest floor. I feel like an ant, and yet there is no sense of vulnerability at all, just peace and wonder. The smell of cedar and woodsmoke permeate the air and it is incredibly pleasant. A little motion catches my eye and I turn and look into a hollow place in a tree. A massive owl is looking back, gray and scholarly looking. His huge translucent golden eyes pierce me, and I feel a kinship I didn’t know was possible with an animal. We stare at one another for a long time and then he blinks in slow motion, and I miss seeing his eyes during that blink as they are hidden for a moment by the velvet gray eyelids. When they open, he turns his head and looks off in the distance and I have the feeling that he is messaging me to look that way too, so I do. Far off in the distance is a silvery shaft of light, and in that light I can see curls of smoke lilting straight into the air. When I look back I see the the owl disappearing back into the recess of the hollow. I start walking toward the light and come to several small streams along the way and each of them has a little moss covered bridge to cross. Here and there patches of white stone show from under the moss and I wonder what they would look like without the moss obscuring them. At one bridge I look into the water and can see the flashing silver sides of fish as they turn to eat some unseen prey. Everything I encounter is fully satisfying and feels like…enough, but something keeps drawing me to the light. Finally, as I near the clearingl I can hear voices. They rise and fall rhythmically and in harmony, and the laughter coming from the gathering is so deep and genuine and satisfying, that I can feel a lump in my throat and tears wanting to come. Something tells me that this is how humans are meant to be. Connected, all differences dissolved like sugar in the rain, and all that is left is just the core of each person, and that core is of one accord.

I walk up a sloped white boulder until the whole area is under me and in clear view. In the middle of the clearing is a long and wide, heavy table. At the far end of the clearing is a large fire pit with whole animals turning slowly over hot coals. Each side of the table has long benches lining it, and everything is made of thick, hand quarried light gray stone. The table is set with a feast that is diverse and colorful and perfectly arranged. Crisp, golden skinned poultry, glazed pork, roast beef, every kind of side dish and desert, and everything aesthetically perfect, as if two dozen master chefs brought the steaming meal out all at once and put it exactly where it needed to be placed for such pleasing eye appeal. Guests line both sides of the table, some seated, some standing, talking, laughing, engaging one another, and somehow even though there are several hundred there, they all seem to be having the same conversation. Children run around in the grass surrounding the table, dressed in white and seemingly flowing with the mist.

A woman about halfway down the table who had her back to me turns and looks up. She smiles and puts down her glass. She walks toward me and I can tell she wants me to walk to her in some unspoken way, so I do. As she gets closer I recognize her, and I can tell that she’s recognized me all along. She stops and grabs my shoulders gently and her head falls to the side a little and she smiles the most warm and deep smile I have ever known. She tells me she’s missed me so deeply, and it isn’t until her smile widens enough to expose her teeth that I recognize her as my great grandmother, but she’s younger, much younger. Her skin vibrant and unlined, her hair glowing, and she’s dressed like a woman of 1929 would dress, she wears a sleek cream colored dress, and a slim pearl encrusted headband. I have a desire to cry, but not from sadness, and not from happiness, but from joy. I wonder at that moment if I have ever really experienced joy before. She turns me and leads me by the hand back to the group and I have that same experience over and over. A friend from grade school, all my grandparents, friends and family, some long gone, some not. Nobody has to say anything, the overwhelming joy at reunion at long last, and the feeling of permanence…that this joy and fulfillment is never going to go away, would be overwhelming if there wasn’t God to give understanding of the unbelievable connectedness we all now share. I wonder if it has always been that way, but maybe I refused to understand that we are all part of the same experience. We sit at the table as evening begins to fall and we eat. In the trees thousands of small flame lit torches erupt and cast the absolute perfect yellow light over everything. From the grass and out into the forest millions of fireflies appear and float like tiny match carrying fairies. I look up and down the table and I’m astonished at the faces, and yet I’m still searching for something. After night falls fully upon the gathering. I stand and look straight up to the sky, which peeks through the canopy, and see the moon. I wonder why there’s a moon, but no sun…and I understand that I don’t need an answer. The moon is spectacular and double the size it has ever appeared to me. It hangs in the black sky like it has been suspended from a string, white-blue and every crater exquisite and as clear as if I were looking through a powerful telescope at it. Its beauty holds me captive and I stare for a very long time. Then, something draws me away. I look past the crowd to the far side of the clearing and a billow of fireflies rush out of the way like sparks up a chimney. I recognize a pair of young people walking in out of the dark and I realize what I’ve been searching for is now in front of me. The young man, tall, handsome, unbent, untwisted, and quiet. I look at him and recognize that big genuine smile. The young woman with him is beautiful, her shining hair pulled back from her face, a mysterious little smile turns her mouth up on the edges. I take them both into my arms at once and hold them dearly, then I look at them, so different, so content, and filled with that same joy I feel. I tell them how deeply I’ve missed them and they smile and tell me the same. The young man gives me a little elbow, and the young girl points a delicate finger at my tattoo and smiles again. We walk back to the table arm in arm and I am content, I know where I’m at.

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