I’m walking on a dirt road. There are pebbles about and weeds lining the side, poking about the fence posts that guide my way. Those fence posts are hand-carved of sturdy, beautiful wood, carefully sanded and varnished (I know the Carpenter and have seen him in action, working on the fences. He’s really nice).
Taking my gloves from my backpack, I pull them on and readjust my hat. As I walk, I grab handfuls of weeds up and toss them behind me to dry and wither away. Sometimes I don’t pull all the roots up, and I end up having to pull more that spring up again later, but that’s okay. I also know the Gardener, and He keeps teaching me how to pull and how to plant and seed and reap (I love how he smiles, whether I land on my rump after pulling, or perfectly rip up the weeds from the root). I see him along the road too, pulling weeds and giving some extra love to the flowers. He always smiles at me.
Beyond the fence, there are also beautiful wildflowers in patches and thickets of aromatic bushes, fields of sunny wheat that I see in the distance, and groves of fruit trees. It’s green all around right now, and though there’s the occasional patch of dried up clay, I know the rain will soon bring life back to those sections. It stills my heart.
I’m still walking down the road, whistling a light tune as I go, hands tapping my thighs in a beat I’m not entirely sure when I picked up. The sun beats down as I go, and my way down this road is quite clear even though I’m not sure where it ends, or even where it bends. Sometimes I’ll meet the trail guide, and he’ll replace my map after it’s gotten soggy or ripped. He’ll give me some extra batteries for my flashlight, or a granola bar. He loves to tell us about the different kinds of greenery along the road, and the history of the area.
Occasionally I’ll meet up with another traveler; we’ll talk and share where we’ve been, what we’ve seen, and who else we’ve met. We’ll swap some supplies and sometimes branch off to different paths, and at others change speed or take a break at one of the many grassy knolls beside the road. It’s like they were placed there just for us and they make wonderfully refreshing picnic spots. There aren’t even any ants!
Y’know, I should probably mention that it isn’t always this idyllic. Lots of times I do find ants, I step in the puddles when it rains, sometimes it pours and I get drenched and sneeze. Other times, I get turned around after taking a nap end up having to ask directions (It’s a tad embarrassing, but better than wasting my time wandering).
The weather can change, too. Sometimes it’s miserable and wintery, or dry and cracking like a desert. Or maybe the landscape changes, as I travel further and further (sometimes when it gets really steep I have to keep taking breaks and keep soaking up the Sun, no matter how hard it might be for me to see it at times). And sometimes…
Oh no…not another toll booth!
I stop in my steps and start fiddling with the straps of my backpack. I pretend I didn’t see it down the road, and step to the side, taking a rummage through my bag to look busy.
It’s not your average toll booth. Actually, it’s really just a lovely, blooming arch with creeping greenery growing up it (but everyone calls it the toll booth, and it stuck). The arch provides shade for this nice sitting area beside it since the man at the booth loves to chat and have some tea. Actually, it usually turns into more than a chat. Often times, it’s a full-blown life lesson…which usually turns out pretty good, don’t get me wrong. He even gives you fresh scones, too (though I think he just gives them out to soften the blow of the blunt truth he usually dishes out first).
That man always has this knack for pinning that thing I’ve tried to ignore thinking about, and then digging it out. With tea and scones. He’s real gentle and a softie, but he’s built. Like a…like a…like Superman! Whenever I see him, I feel sorry for any poor soul who has the misfortune to get on his bad side, but I see the kindness in his eyes, so I don’t worry.
I sigh. I just don’t want to take the trouble today. It’s been so beautiful, and I don’t want to mess that up with his prodding and my tears…because he’s so good at the prodding that he easily pulls something out in conversation that I thought I forgot about and reminds me that maybe I shouldn’t have. Huh…
What does he think I am, anyway? Sheep?! No! Sheep are so stupid they need to be poked and prodded and fenced in and watched 24/7. Pbbt.
I peek out the corner of my eye and see him sitting there, tea already out and scones lying on a big plate. He does make killer scones….
I shake my head. No. Not this time. I don’t have to stop if I don’t want to…right? Yeah! I’ll just say a quick “Hi!” maybe tack on a “How’re you doin?” and be on my way.
I walk toward the booth and he looks up from his tea, smiling, as he hears me near. I gulp. Wait, why am I gulping?! I have nothing to gulp about. I just don’t want to chat today.
He greets me, and I greet him back half-heartedly, mumbling a “How’re you doin?” as I pretend to adjust my hat and miss his offer of tea. I keep on walking, past the shade of the arch and back into the sun, which now feels burning. Maybe I should stop for a bit…
No! I’ll be fine. I don’t have to stop if I don’t want to.
I barely hear the clink of his cup as he sets it back onto the saucer, and the birds I heard before suddenly stopped chirping. What’s with that?
Suddenly I stop. I would say that I froze, except that I’m also shaking. He just spoke my name. He didn’t bellow or strain to be heard, he just…said it. I shouldn’t have heard it this far away already, but that was all it took. I bring my hands in front of my face and see that they can’t stop trembling. I don’t know how I’ll drink any tea like this, but I know I need to go back and talk to him.
As I turn around and start walking back, I see a small grin peeking out from the side of his face. Now I’m remembering his nimble humour and wit, and I know that I’ll be lagging behind it. I smile now because I also remember how he uses it to cheer me up, and never shoves it in my face. How did I forget that?
I sit down at the cast iron chair, complete with plump cushion, as he pours me some tea. My eyes hit the scones as he pushes them toward me. He sits back and smiles, sipping his tea, and it’s not a, “I know something that you don’t,” smile either. It’s a…smile of a shepherd to his sheep, that he loves. Wait, sheep? Aghhhh…
Y’know, somehow I forgot. Somehow I forgot how much of a sheep I am. I forgot how much help I need, and I forgot that he was there the whole time as I was walking and admiring the fence, pulling weeds and enjoying free granola bars.
Somehow I forgot about teatime with him. I forgot how much I need it, how refreshing it is to sit with him and dump my bag out, having him sift through it and repack it. I forgot how he cleans it and then dusts me off, picking away all the lint and burrs I’ve collected. I forgot how he tells me stories of the sun and the moon and the stars and how they were created. I forgot how well he tells the story of the snowy lamb and the cross-shaped tree.
It’s been hours now, but the sun is still shining and we’re still talking. And I love it. I forgot how much, though I’m really not sure how. I reach up to wipe away some tears from my smiling face.
Yup, I’m a sheep…but that’s okay, because I know my shepherd is good and gentle and strong 24/7. And he has tea and scones.
I’ll try not to forget teatime again.