I think the dying pray at the end not please but thank you, as a grateful guest thanks his host at the door.Annie Dillard
No one would ever call me religious. Even as a young child I found Sunday school boring and could never figure out why gluing alphabet noodles onto a paper plate beneath a picture of Jesus would make me a better person or get me into heaven. And I figured out quite young that I did not need to die in order to go there. I went to heaven every summer on camping trips with my family. I knew what heaven was like.
Heaven sounded like a river. And if I soaked my feet in it, tiny minnows would nibble on my toes, and it would tickle. Heaven tickled. It smelled like rainbow trout in the cast iron frying pan and tasted of bacon and fried potatoes and canned peaches. It was a breeze and the song of a winter wren and the dappled sunlight in the green leaves of vine maple over my head. It was the flash of a pileated woodpecker and the crumbled dust from the log where it carved out its meal.
Heaven was the smell of campfire smoke and my mother’s beautiful soprano voice rising above the trees. Heaven splashed. It scurried up trees and chattered. It bounded off lifting its black tail. Heaven was soft like moss, weighted and heavy like club moss draped over the sturdy branches of a big leaf maple. It was bright with the chartreuse of lichens on weathered wood. It smelled like vanilla leaves, dry and fragile and fragrant in late summer and crunching beneath my feet.
With time I figured out that I did not have to wait for camping trips in the summer to enter that sacred place. I found heaven in the faces of the pansies in my mother’s garden, in the soft petals of snapdragons as they snapped in my small hands. It was in the golden tassels of corn silk, beckoning from the tops of the stalks, the taste of raw peas, sweet as candy, eaten from the pods and straight from the vine. It was in the ants, scurrying about on the back porch where I spent hours watching them wander about the porch. I remember watching a caterpillar being carried away by these tiny, industrious creatures. It still seemed like heaven to me.
Heaven grew upright and tall. It smelled like cedar. It rustled like aspen. It tasted like huckleberries. It was the Gothic arches of western hemlock boughs. It was the trail, solid beneath them, and welcoming my feet. Yes, it was the trail that brought me to the most sacred places of all. . .the mountain passes, the tall peaks, the alpine tarns, the source of a river in a tiny stream, a campsite where I sipped tea from my old green cup.
I found it too in the eyes of my twin daughters, the laughter they flung at the world when I tickled their bellies, the way they threw their arms and legs into the air and flung their heads back. . .a full bodily expression of joy tossed at the world simply because I tickled their bellies. Heaven tickled.
Call me a heathen if you wish. Better yet, call me a pagan or a pantheist…someone who sees God in all things. But whatever you call me, do it softly please. I don’t want to miss the sound of the wind in the pine trees.