Deep within the Birches

“Come on, Dad, let’s build a fort!”

“Okay, bud, let’s do it.” And we left the house, unsure but eager for what we were embarking upon.

The back yard has mature pines, a fruit tree, red tip shrubs more than ten feet tall along thimgrese fence, and river birches. It’s September and the birches’ fallen bark coats the corner of the back yard in khaki scrolls that crunch under our shoe soles.

We trimmed low lying limbs from some of the trees, shaved them to where we could fashion them into the thick red tip that was to serve as our little camouflage fort. We raked fallen leaves and pinecones from the earth’s floor. We fitted small branches within larger limbs, fashioning more from energy than from thought.

As I watched my son cut limbs with his machete, and saw him carve notches in twigs with his new knife, he was utterly engaged and content. In his mind, he was erecting a fortress, a boyhood castle from which he’d rule his kingdom.

And as I watched, and crouched beneath the limbs with him, and crawled into our growing fort, pulling honeysuckle vines and briars from the fence line, the incalculable weight of grief reached for my heart. I longed for nothing so much as to always see boys so happy.

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