When the follower becomes the leader

Feb. 04, 2013 @ 07:02 PM

He has a splinter in the index finger of his right hand, and he looks to the eyes of his father.
The splinter is small, dark and is just inside the still-developing creases of a print, but he doesn’t want his father to know the splinter is there.
He follows, and every few steps, he touches the splinter. For some distance, the splinter becomes his focus and he doesn’t notice that his father is watching him.
“What’s wrong?” he asks.
“Nothing,” the boy replies.
There is silence. With all of the tenderness that calloused hands might possess, he encourages the splinter to be free. He follows closer now, and this is the way he follows from now on.
They were hunting rabbits that day, and the briars and the thorns form the fortress where rabbits are found. He followed wherever his father stepped through that which pulled at his clothes. He stepped into the cold creek. He climbed the muddy bank.
He walked with a splinter, too. It was rabbit hunting then, and it was chasing hounds in the night on the trail of raccoons. But the presence of his father defeated lurking demons.
He followed into the darkness, into the hollers and into the places where big trees shield the sounds of the world. The splinter was joined by a bruise when young knees met the dullness of a weathered rock.
Still, he followed. He crawled over a fence, then stepped through another and over yet another. His knees would be scraped, his pants ripped and sometimes his leg would bleed.
Still, he followed. There were hunts and adventures of all types, and there were hills, bumps and bruises. Along the way, there was growth, too.
Still, he followed. When they crossed the slippery rocks in the river to explore the other side, his feet might become wet and cold. When they cut posts from cedar trees on the east side of a hill, his fingers might become mashed. There were fishhooks in delicate skin and fingers pinched in the tailgate of a truck.
There was the feeling of a branch, releasing tension and brushing his eyes, causing water to swell and rise. There were sticks that needed whittling, and he was careful with the knife. Yet sometimes the knife doesn’t close or fingers are not quick enough, and the blood comes quickly.
He followed because he witnessed that when necessary, his father would stop. He knew the touch of a man whose hands were worn and soft like the feel of rough sand, and he knew his scratches, cuts and wounds.
He knew his father would be gentle with splinters, and his words would soothe a bruise. He knew that his father would lead them to game, show him adventure and teach him the way of the woods.
Yet, more importantly, he knew there was safety here. He knew there was relief should pain interrupt.
Eventually, he was scraped less and fell less, and he could step over or around briars, fence wire or slippery rocks.
Eventually, he became a leader. It had been years since he felt the touch of his father’s hand and knew that neither briar, thorn nor splinter would ruin an adventure together.
Such was the case that day when a father saw his son cradle his finger out of sight. They had followed the hounds into the briars, a place where delicate skin becomes tough skin at the expense of briars that cling and do not let go.
His boy retained the tears very well, denied the broken thorn and was reluctant to offer his finger for repair.
And so, this man who had followed years before now was at a moment to lead. He took his son’s finger in the palm of his hand and pulled the thorn, as father’s do. He looked his son over as a father does.
When the tears were dry and his lips had healed the wound, he said to his son, “Will you follow me?”
With delicate skin and an eager soul, his son replied, “Yes, Dad. Only if you lead the way.”
Enjoy your time outdoors.

You may contact Jason Hawkins at hawkinsoutdoors@msn.com.