Tree Hugger


A month before Savannah turned five, we packed up our life and moved away from everyone we knew into the Tennessee mountains. As soon as the weather was agreeable, we loaded the kids into the van, drove to the top of a mountain and hiked. Every weekend that spring and summer and fall, we hiked. Savannah was five. Joseph was only a year. Sometimes they could make it, other times we’d carry them back to the van, but we always hiked.

At five and six and seven, if you met Savannah on a trail, you’d think she was quiet, but you would never know she was special needs. She concentrated on the trees and rocks and flowers. She noticed every new moss, gently sliding her fingers over that which wasn’t there a week before. Savannah moved every rock that needed a better place to rest. We called her our tree hugger, and she did. She would drift off the path, between the trees, wrapping her arms around those that spoke to her or those that needed speaking to. Only she knows, tucked away in her silence, how she chose her trees.

But as things progressed, and Joseph grew older, and Savannah grew taller, and her disability raged, hiking began to evolve into a burden. An episode would occur on the way home, with feet and hands and heads flailing into windows and doors and other people. She would start a hike only to have an episode hit while stranded on the Appalachian trail. We tried new trails, new mountains, new states. Eventually, she wouldn’t even get out of the van. Pull and tug and coerce as we might, she wouldn’t leave the van.

Today was a beautiful day. The high was 81, which meant at the top of the mountain it would be in the lower 70’s. We piled into the van and headed to our original mountain. As we began winding around the mountain and through the trees, it happened. She began to squeal and laugh. Reluctantly, she got out of the van. She clung to her dad, as we started the hike. She pulled and tugged to go back to the car, but the air was too fresh, the trees too inviting, the path beckoned before her. The smell of rhododendrons and evergreens and pollens and fresh mud filled her lungs, and she was off on a hike. Giggling and hugging (although no trees) she made the entire hike. She even moved a stone.

Tomorrow, we may try again.


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