This weekend I heard some talk show guy on the radio, asking people to call in and tell about the best advice their dads ever gave them. It was schmalzy, sure, but very sweet too. I heard grown men call in and cry about how their dads had helped to guide them. And then there was the guy who said his dad's best advice was, "Never put prune juice in your pancakes. It's not polite to eat and run."
Yeeessss. Thank you.
It got me thinking, though, about my own dad. He's given me plenty of good advice along the years, from the practical - "Never cut toward yourself" to the practical but also philosophical - "You just can't stack wood well if you're sitting down."
That right there is just plain truth.
I thought about it for a while, what WAS the best advice Dad ever gave me? And then I remembered.
When I was twenty I decided to solve some problems in my life by taking the whole deal and upending it. And to move from Las Cruces, NM, to Denver. That was a good choice, eventually, because here we are. But at the time, I had taken my life plan and scrambled it, but good. It SEEMED like a good idea at the time.
However, after a summer of boxing up my stuff and hauling it to Denver, only to discover that deciding to move and get a job and find an apartment was far easier than actually DOING all that, my grand plan was starting to look a little tattered. I had originally planned to live north of Denver, Fort Collins-ish, and had spent many many days running around the small communities around there, trying in vain to get someone to hire me.
No one wanted to hire me.
After a few weeks of that, I had to go back to New Mexico to wrap up a few loose ends. I stayed with my parents for a few days, where I'm sure I was a DELIGHTFUL house guest, given to snapping, "I don't KNOW, OK? Are you HAPPY?" if they asked anything about my new wonderful life in the frozen north. And then I would storm out of the room.
Dad had to go up into the mountains to cut some firewood for the winter (seriously. They lived in the middle of nowhere. In the 1800s. Sometimes the well would go dry, and I am NOT EVEN EXAGGERATING), and he invited me along. I graciously informed him that I would join him, except in the actual WORK portion of the trip, and we were off.
Now, I hated the small town Mom and Dad lived in at the time. I had gone to middle and high school there, and those were...not the best years of my life. But as we drove up into the tall pines that grew up north, I was surprised to see how beautiful the land was. How had I missed that?
Dad pulled off the highway, onto one of the dusty, deeply rutted dirt roads that led to his latest, greatest place to cut firewood. When we parked, I hopped out and wandered away as he fired up the chainsaw and set to work. There was a small stream, and as I followed it I found tiny wild strawberries growing on its banks. I collected handfuls of the berries, little thimbles of grainy sweetness. I sat and listened to the pines whispering high above me and felt the sun, perforating the shade as is shot through gaps in the branches. I spent a LOT of my childhood wandering around the woods, and that day felt more like coming home than it had when I dropped my bags inside the door of my parents' home. I had always been sure that some great truth waited out there. Also a unicorn. And while I have yet to fine either, it was good to be back in the realm of possibility.
When Dad was done with the wood, he wanted to stop by a fishing hole. As he fished, I sat and looked around. About five feet away from me, a chipmunk poked its head out of a hole in the ground. I sat still, not wanting to scare it away. It peered at me, its eyes bright black, and crept closer. I knew better than this, but I held out a hand. It approached cautiously, and sniffed my fingers. After a moment of that, it let me stroke the springy striped hair on its back.
"Dad," I breathed. He turned and watched, as I pet the wild chipmunk.
A lifetime of longing to cuddle and love all the wild things in the woods, finally answered.
Eventually the chipmunk scuttled back into its hole, and Dad and I left.
As I was packing up to head back - er - home, except I was sort of technically homeless, Dad helped me carry bags to the car.
"Hey," he said, "as you go figure everything out, try to remember something." I waited for it, sure he was going to tell me to change the oil on my car. "Remember to stop for the strawberries and chipmunks, ok?"
The problems I faced that day are long solved, and life has managed to hand me increasingly more complex riddles. But I try to remember still, to stop and look around me, for strawberries and chipmunks.
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