Over the crest of the hill, down a bushwhacked path through yellow, tall grasses swaying in the cool breeze of a gray day. We heard them as we descended toward the pond.
In the distance, a house sat atop a far hill. To the right, woods. Hunting season over, we felt free to walk through this uncharted land, in search of a peaceful Sabbath walk and ponderous family time on this first day of Passover.
The sound was so loud, we began to wonder if it was manmade. Dan walked near to the water’s edge; we stood silent behind him. He shook his head. “Frogs,” he said.
Clicking and chirping, constant, their cries ringing out against the white sky. Frogs on the first day of Passover! It was the perfect metaphor.
We continued up and through the winding trees, over and around crests, noticing debris down the hills on both sides. We walked until there was no more path in the forest, and turned around to retreat.
But by the end of the path, we weren’t done hiking. The exhilaration you feel out under the open sky, the cool breeze of the forest and the warming breeze of the descending swamp paths, is indescribable – as if reborn, as if renewed, as if this was the first day of all the many days of a life.
Whenever I tell the kids we are going on a hike, there returns to me a cacophony of opinions: Asher is usually exultant, Shaya murmurs acquiescence, Eliana undoubtedly expresses extreme disappointment.
But I know my family. Once out in nature, we will all converge on the most beautiful of settings, iPhones forgotten, everything around us embraced as we embrace each other late at night snuggled into a too-small bed just to be together for a few moments longer.
And that’s exactly what happened yesterday. Shaya’s initial squirms of fear – of uncharted paths, of strange sounds, of wandering without a compass – abated once he found the perfect stick and identified the frogs. Eliana’s voice sang to the heavens with squeals of delight. Asher had been waiting for this hike all year.
It was, in a word, perfect. Just me, Dan, and my children. These loves of my life. With nowhere to be and no agenda – just to wander and discover and share our delight with one another. A perfect family day.
We had spent the morning in a new synagogue, Asher entranced by the musicality of the service and the abundance of lay-leaders. Dan and I reveled in the friendliness of the congregation, people welcoming us and introducing us around, the rabbi shaking the hands of every member of our family.
The other kids, well, they were bored, but they are bored whenever we go to synagogue, so I didn’t hold that against the day. The night prior, we’d had a family Passover Seder with laughter and song, excitement and cousins reveling in being together, my parents beaming proudly over this table of a good portion of their abundant offspring.
After the first hike ended, we crossed the dirt road to find a second hike, stay in nature a little while longer. We discovered the stone and concrete foundation of two houses long abandoned, and started spinning stories of what they could have been, whom they could have housed.
We laughed over an Old Navy tank top dangling from a branch and flannel pants waving from another, again telling stories of whose clothing was cast off before they ventured out into the wilderness.
We walked down, down, down the proscribed path until we ended in muddy gunk, turning around with the energy and enthusiasm of people kissed by the sun and embraced by the wind. We climbed up through the overgrown brush of the second foundation, laughing, calling, yelling, smiling.
It was our adventure. It was how I always envisioned my family.
After, we sipped coffee drinks in a beautiful small-town coffee shop, themed Christian with crosses for Holy Saturday and a morbid tagline recalling the three wise men thrown into a furnace but not killed by the heat (their coffee branded: roasted but never burned). We thumbed through books from their case, Shaya and Eliana recalling favorite childhood picture books, Asher fingering a collection of clever comics, me reading the pages of How to Stay Christian in College.
We laughed and laughed, then dashed into the knitting store to buy Shaya knitting needles and yarn, finally, after so many requests.
A day devoted to being together, to turning off technology, to discovering the many meanings of our lives.
Later, the children left for Passover with their father’s family, and I reflected on the sound of the frogs in that far-off field. So distant from our lives, and yet so pertinent.
Wherever we go, we can find the meaning in our hearts.