He dreamed of his father last night. The two of them were walking from the hardwood hammock behind their old house down to the beach. As they walked his father would stoop, picking up the dead and brittle leaves from the sandy earth. His father’s voice rolled softly in the shadows as they picked their way past old deadfalls and snakeholes long abandoned. He would give each plant its name: false tamarind, boxwood, Spanish dagger, the spikes of sweet aloe, the huge brown fronds of thatch palm. There, in the close afternoon heat under the forest canopy, it seemed to the boy that his father knew the names of all things, that he could answer any question: why the stars swung in their grand circles, where the trade winds wandered from and where they went, how the snail made his old home in the shell.
As they rambled through the thickets the conversation turned, slowly, to speech of other days. The boy asked his father questions about things they had never spoken of in life. What of the nature of God? And the nature of forgiveness? And what did good men say, and how did they live? When the boy spoke of his own failures and errors, he could see them clear and remote, as with a spyglass trained on a distant place. The pain was no longer sharp as a fresh wound, or the throbbing of an old one, but the remembered ache of a scar. And his father explained where he had gone wrong, gently, without malice or judgment, a hand heavy on his shoulder. The boy felt the weight of the hand there and knew it for the consolation of one who’d felt the same.
They passed talking through the high stands of hopwood on the dune and down to walk bent against the wind off the water and the salt spray it carried. His father plucked the ripe purple seagrapes and chewed them thoughtfully as they went down, spitting the pits in the sand. The boy listened to his father as they walked down to the edge until neither could hear each other for the waves that chased one another on the rippled coast. The sun was falling behind them setting the forest aflame with red and the sea gleamed like burnished brass and the two of them stood there a long time.
The boy who became the man woke in the darkness before dawn. His father was long dead. He remembered only a few things his father had said in the dream, but one was that the moon and the tide and women all shared a bond of months and seasons, that their phases counted time, that a single grave secret united them. The man who had been the boy thought it was a solemn wisdom he had learned in the darkness of the hammock and even if he could not remember it, it was not forgotten. It was the wisdom of the ancient living world that was ruled by laws unspeakable and vast and it was there in the sky and the earth for a man who was listening.