Love stories on a birch tree

I passed a long, slow jog Saturday with a 17-track, all Kris Kristofferson playlist in my ear and intriguing stories of life running through my head.

A rope string laid low by the wind and a bunch of deflated balloons inspired about a half-mile muse about finite festivities. Party or promotion, I wondered. Released or renegade? How far had it traveled and what stories would it tell if I stopped to peek?

I rumbled on.

A bald eagle kept a watchful eye on me as I stopped to take a picture of a birch tree he’d perched above. I’d seen that tree about 100 times before without noticing the carvings in its bark. “CE + AC” “AD + AN” “TL + BB”. Did these couples wander past every now and then, check on their carvings and smile? Were the initials they’d carved a playful prelude to a young romance, a confirmation of an abiding love, or a poignant throwback to better days?

Someone drew what I hoped was a reciprocal heart around the initials “JK”. “C’mon, JK,” I thought. “Give it a whirl.”

The eagle swooped down at me and I panicked for a very brief moment, thinking it intended to sink its talons in me and carry me off. Then I remembered that I was a grown woman, and a rather tall one at that, and I chuckled a little as I watched that big beautiful bird fly away.

I worried for miles about the people behind the birch tree carvings. Were they happy? Still in love? Armed with a large knife and still wandering around that trail? (Just kidding).

I noted the bench underneath the tree and the dedication to a man named James R. Hill. “I don’t know you, Jim,” I thought. “But I think it’s very cool that someone thought to commemorate you this way.”

I clumped along that trail, leaving big ole muddy footprints in my wake, and tipped my fleece hat to Jim (whose obituary I later read).

Wood carvings, metal benches, colorful balloons — they all combine to tell our story, and the legacy we’ll leave behind.

Let’s all lead with love.

What story do you think these balloons would tell? I’m hoping they had an amazing time at a very happy celebration before they broke free and flew away.
So many stories are carved into this tree and I almost missed them all. Molly pointed them out to me one day on our walk. I stopped to take a picture the next day on my run.
The metal plate on this bench reads: James R Hill “Jim” Happy Trails Those we love don’t go away They walk beside us everyday Unseen, unheard but always near.
Here’s that bald eagle swooping down at me. One of us may have screamed. I hope it was him.

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