Silence on the Hill


silenceI pulled the black ski mask down over my face to fight off the biting cold. When I heard the sounds of twigs snapping, I knew the little boys were close by.

As I stood up from the log I had been resting on, I picked up the axe with my right hand. Grateful for the gloves, I moved quietly in the direction of the children. The soft crunch of snow crackled under my feet as I took short steps along the trail.

“Let’s take these pine cones. They’re big and we can use them on the table for Grandma,” Kevin called out to Sean.

Sean looked back over his shoulder and replied, “Sure, she’ll like that. Here are some acorns too!”

I stepped on a large stick and the sound of the cracking echoed through the woods.

“Hey, did you hear that?”

“Yeah, we better head back toward the house.”

I watched them from my vantage point behind the trees, as they began backtracking. It seemed as if they were picking up the pace, so I hurried to get closer to them. My axe hit a stump with a loud “thunk” as I tried to negotiate the trail behind them.

“Did you hear that?”

“Hurry up!”

I found myself sucking wind as I tried to keep up with the boys. They were getting close to the house, so I began to run, circling around so that I could cut them off. No way was I going to let them get back to the house, not now that I was this close to catching up with them.

I stood behind a large pine tree, about thirty yards ahead of them. As they neared, I raised the axe and stepped right into their path.

Both boys stopped short as if they had hit a wall. They stared at me and both began to laugh.

“Grandpa, you look so scary with that mask on and that axe!”

Sean said, “Here is the tree I found, Grandpa. I think Grandma will love this one, don’t you?”

I knelt down to sweep away some snow so that I could get to the trunk of the tree. “I think this will make a fine Christmas tree, boys. Help pull off some of these lower boughs so that I can get the axe in there to chop it down.”

We walked up the trail, with the tree being dragged between us. I thought of years gone by when I had gone through the same exercise with my own grandfather on this small hill in Colorado. Here, where generations of our family had selected Christmas trees year after year. This is a time they will remember, I thought to myself. After all, I certainly do.

When we got to the porch, Grandma swung open the door. “All of you boys pull off your jackets before you come in here. You’re covered with needles and pine sap. I don’t want it on the furniture!”

She had already cleared the area in front of the bay window and covered the floor with a bedsheet. I pushed the tree down deep into the stand and we stood back to admire it.

“It looks great, Grandpa. Now can we go back up on the hill with our sleds?”

I waved them off and hugged Grandma as they headed back up the hill.

“Definitely a time to remember, Jonas. Definitely.”

Traditions. Timeless.