I’m sitting in the woods above the pond. It is a hot sticky Tuesday. The breeze which drifts among the leaves masks the truth of the midday sun. I don’t often sit in the woods. More often than not I put my swim bag on the stone wall at the edge of the beach and walk down to the water with my cap goggles and nose clip and wade in. I stand thigh deep in the water planning my swim though sometimes I am not even sure where the swim will take me until I launch into it. Then arriving back at the beach I retrieve my flip flops and take the least sandy route back up the beach to the car park.
But not today. Today I exchange my swim bag for another, smaller purple-with-gold sack. In it I carry some smooth white river stones (and a few other assorted stones I have collected,) some water proof markers, a small painted wood angel cuddling a cat, some post-it notes and a pen. My angel has long blonde hair, slightly curly and her wings are fine threads of wire artfully bent in the shape of those of a butterfly.
I hike across the beach toward the boat ramp intending to walk into the woods on the more secluded side of the pond. When I come to the entrance to the trail I deviate. There is a small dirt track that leads above it to the top of the ridge. It is steep and the earth, a deep red brown reminds me of that in central Australia. I do not go far. I climb the slope to where the woods thin, revealing more luscious red soil. Then I survey the clumps of trees and mosses and crisp brown leaves looking for a suitable spot. Finally I decide on a small grove where the trunks of three moss covered trees emerge out of a bed of dead fir needles.
I plan to dig. I set to work with my small silver spoon clearing the pine needles and the soil below. This soil is soft. It is also darker in color and it is not long before I have a small hole, big enough to fit a post-it note. I have decided to write a message to place and the bottom of my memorial. Friday, (September 11) is the first anniversary of the death of my teenage daughter and for three days leading up to it I will visit this small secret space to honor her memory.
After I poke my message into the corners of the hole I place some of the stones over it, carefully choosing the flattest and whitest of them until I have a small mound of stones. I drape the green velvet that the angel was wrapped inside around my completed memorial and leave her watching over it. Then I stand up to survey my work.
It is late, so I make a note of how to find this place the following day. In doing so, it strikes me I have unwittingly constructed it close to one of the many paths that seem to lead along the ridge. I wonder what I will find when I return. My therapist’s voice in my head reminds me of the possibility of animal visitors overnight.
The following day after my morning swim I make my way into the woods once more. The sun is casting welcome shade in the dappled shape of the tree trunks and leafy branches on the forest floor. It is not difficult to locate my memorial but I am dismayed when I find my fairy glen destroyed and my angel strewn amongst the leaves.
I set to work looking for the various stones, trying to recall the most important pieces, all the time wondering what or who would have done this given the small note remained untarnished lying on the earth beside the demolished grave. Once I am cradling alI the pieces I decide to move to a more secluded place, amongst untrodden leaves, again making for a place nestled between two moss covered tree trunks.
This time my memorial is wedged more deeply into the earth. I add to it the prayer card with Jesi’s smiling and playful grin, her depiction of herself as an angel. When I finish I almost completely cover it with dead crisp leaves.
On the third day the sky threatens rain as I make my way into the woods above Walden. The silence which I carry within feels enormous. It is tinged with anticipation and hope and reverence for this daily pilgrimage. Although my small memorial is camouflaged I have taken note of how to locate it and my eyes come easily to rest on the upper edge of the small card that is Jesi’s angel. Making my way up to it I unearth the untouched shrine. Today I make another small addition. I place the plastic bracelet I bought last year when I visited the 9/11 memorial at Ground Zero which I have been wearing this week in honor of our 9/11. It broke when I was stretching it over my wrist this morning. I also place three stones above it which I print in colored marker the words
Then I dig out a bowl of muesli I packed to eat after my morning swim. As I sit next to Jesi, her face shining up at me I feel at peace. A strange contented peace as my eyes rove over the woods and toward the pond. It starts to rain and although the sky had warned me I did not bring a waterproof jacket. I wrap my towel closer around me and huddle down under it. The rain falls heavier and Jesi’s face is obscured by droplets. I put my bowl of cereal away and focus on saying farewell to my memorial as the rain increases in intensity. Eventually I head back onto the trail and down the steep decline, my towel now drenched.
It is not until I am driving away from Walden, peering through the thick spray of droplets on my windscreen that I think back and realize the contentment, the peace I felt sitting next to Jesi’s memorial was not all. There was a certain presence lingering in the air around me, gently reminding me that as alone I feel missing her, she is never far away. I just have to be still and silent and I can access her love anytime.