Jonathan wandered through the woods, as was his habit after his chores and schoolwork were done. Each day he tried to venture a little farther, or in a different direction to see what he could see. Often he imagined himself as a great explorer like the ones he had read about in books. He also looked for plants different than the ones near home. He took starts of these home to Aunt Helga and Grandma Esther. They were able to tell him what they were and explain their uses. Often Grandma Esther asked him to take her where he had found them. She would examine the area, the other plants that were their neighbors and asked the plant if it would like to live in her garden. Jonathan could not imagine one of the plants disagreeing with Grandma. Her garden was wonderful.
One of the reasons she always asked to be taken to where he had found the plants was she needed to know what it's “house and neighbors looked liked”, as she put it. Her garden had sunny spots, shady spots, woodsy areas, dry soil and very moist. And when she took a plant from where Jonathan had found it on one of his explorations, she always took “it's neighbor, so they wouldn't be lonely” and placed it in a spot just like it's old home in her garden.
Jonathan hadn't seen any new plants today, but he was wandering in an area where he'd never been. This morning he decided to go to the left of the cabin and go as far as he thought he could and still get back for supper before dark. The woods were getting darker, although when he looked up the sun was still hanging in the sky high enough to let him know he could still go farther and make it home. Moss had grown on all sides of the trees here. He knew it was a sure sign that the sun didn't get to the floor of these woods much at all. This is what Jonathan had figured made the difference between a woods and a forest, although he really wasn't sure of this point, it was an idea he would ask Grandma Esther about later.
Walking wasn't easy. Jonathan had to watch his step and pick his feet up high, so as not to trip himself in the brush that covered the ground. He was starting to get thirsty and also wondered if he'd be able to find his way back home. Always before he knew that if he would just go back a little ways he could see something that he recognized. But not so now. All around him were darkness and trees. Often Jonathan looked for a place to look through the trees and console himself that truly the sun was still up and he had time to still make it home before dark. “Maybe I should just leave anyway and start home. This really isn't leading me anywhere.”
Just then Jonathan noticed thin puffs of smoke high in the trees ahead of him. Not smoke like a dangerous fire, like the one his family was awakened to when the neighbors' barn caught flame. No, it was more like when Grandpa Benjamin used to smoke the hams. 'Someone lives all the way out here? I don't know who that could be. Maybe though they would let me have some water.' Jonathan knew that it could not be far, so he decided to follow the smoke and see what he could see.
It wasn't easy to follow the smoke in the trees and still walk through the thick under brush of the forest. But still even with the rough going he was there in a few minutes. It took his eyes several seconds to get used to the light. For when he was able to see the smoke close enough to see the smoke cabin it came from the deep woods had stopped and, just as magic, there was a clearing with a cabin, smokehouse, large garden, fields down below some way and even a meadow to the far side of the cabin. Sitting smoking a pipe was a thin old man slowing rocking back and forth in his chair. Although the scene had startled Jonathan, the old man didn't seem to bat an eye at a young boy suddenly appearing through the woods.
“Hello, it'll be nice to have a visitor today. Would ya like to wet your whistle?” cheerfully asked the old man.
“Why, thank you. I was just going to ask for a drink of water.”
“Over there is the well. Help yourself. But if you have trouble let me know. By the way, my name 's Joseph.”
“Pleased to meet you. My name is,”
“Your name is Jonathan. You belong to Jeanette. How is Benjamin?”
“You know who I am?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Grandpa Benjamin is fine. I was out exploring in the woods and have gone farther than ever. I was looking for some unusual plants for Grandma Esther.”
“You can find some unusual ones I'm sure, but never any that she doesn't recognize.”
“I know. She knows all the plants, wherever we go. She and Aunt Helga are teaching me.”
“Now Jeanette used to know how to keep a garden and know all the healing ways.”
“Oh, Mama knows all of them too, yes. But Mama does all the midwifin' now. So Grandma Esther and Aunt Helga and I make sure we have plants for medicine. We also help Grandpa Benjamin with the crops and keeping the garden going. Mama seems to be helping someone sick or birthing a baby or even a calf every day. She sure gets tired.”
Joseph stopped a minute before commenting on the boy's family. He let the vision of the boy soak in. The boy looked small for his age, but still healthy. His hair was streaked from spending so much time in the sun. He saw that Esther still prescribed to the Old Ways. He was glad. And Jeanette had nursed him well and raised him to be a fine boy. Benjamin had obviously taught him the joy, not the drudgery of work. Yes, when he looked at this boy, Jonathan, he saw all of them too. The boy limped some, but not as bad as he remembered. And his one arm was a little shorter than the other, but he noticed that the women had tailored his sleeve so it was not noticeable unless you knew what you were looking for. His speech was a little halting. But he looked you in the eye, he thought clear, and he was not ashamed of himself. He remembered the night this boy was born. And now, Jeanette, Esther, Benjamin, they had done a good job. No, more than that, yes, they loved him.
While Joseph was giving Jonathan a look-see Jonathan was doing the same. He didn't think he had ever seen someone so thin. His clothes hung on him, even though they really were not that large themselves. His hands looked like Grandpa's. He had farmed and worked a long time, and still at it. His eyes looked dim, yet clear as the spring sky. Jonathan had known old men in town whose eyes were dim, and their light was extinguished. But not ol' Joseph. Joseph had a limp too. “Just like me, Jonathan thought.” But Joseph's limp was much bigger than his. And one arm was shorter. So much that his sleeve hung limp. The place was neat enough. He could get around, but he also knew how to just sit. Grandma and Grandpa were like that too. Himself, he could never imagine it.
“Thank you for the water, sir. It sure hit the spot.”
“Glad to hear it. Joseph, remember?”
“Oh, yes sir...Joseph” At the end of the sentence Jonathan made the most contagious grin Joseph had seen.
“Come sit a spell, and then I will take you back to the path leading home.”
“Would you like to come with me? You know Grandma and Grandpa, I'm sure they would love to have you to supper.”
“All in good time. We will soon. But tonight I will lead you back, and when you know where you are I will come back home.”
The two sat in silence watching a hawk fly. Often they would look at each other when they thought that the other was not watching. They were fascinated with each other, but neither one wanted to be the first to tell.
When the hawk was no longer in the sky, they could not help but look at each other. “Mama will be wonderin' where I'm at.” Jonathan left his rocker and went inside to fetch a lantern.
“It will be dark in the woods, till I get you where you know where you are at. Come on, we don't want anyone to worry.” Then the man turned and whistled out the side of his mouth, a short shrill whistle. Jonathan hadn't noticed him before, but out from the other side of the porch came a large dark brown dog.
“Can I pet him?”
“Sure, he'd like that. He's nothing to be afraid of, unless you're stealin' chickens.”
Jonathan looked up and as he hoped Joseph had a smile on his face. “Yes, that's just the way our dog is too and Grandpa's”
The three of them started back through the deep woods. Jonathan was amazed at how fast the old man could walk through the brush. Several times Jonathan got behind. But the dog stayed with him and when Joseph noticed, he stopped also and waited. Each time Jonathan looked to see if Joseph was impatient with him, but no, his face still had that peaceful feeling he got when he looked deep at Grandpa.
“What's his name?”
“I forgot to ask you what your dog's name was.”
“Oh, well, take me a minute, we are pretty silent back here in the woods. I hardly have to call his name, we just seem to know each other. Jonathan waited, although they kept moving.
“His name is Thunder.” said Joseph.
“He was afraid of thunder when he was a pup. And I wanted him to know it was no bigger than him. In fact it's smaller, because it's just a sound. So I named him Thunder. It seems to have worked so far.”
“I like that. Nice to meet you Thunder.” Jonathan paused and watched his new friend Joseph ahead of him, making sure the light shined for all. He made his way through the woods, without any doubt which way to go even though it was getting darker and darker. “I'm glad to meet you too, Joseph”
“Good. You are welcome back anytime. Will ya come? Didn't really get to show ya the place and we didn't really converse much.”
“Sure, I'll come back if you'll have me. Like Aunt Helga says. I never know when I get to roam, got to wait until after all the work is done. But it will be this week. Is that good enough?”
“Thunder and I will be glad to see ya whenever ya come, Jonathan. Won't we Thunder?” At that Thunder stopped walking and looked at the two of them like he was supposed to be doing something, but he wasn't really sure what. Jonathan and Joseph laughed together and both reached down to pet Thunder. “See, he will glad to have ya back. He agrees with me.” said Joseph.
The trio was mostly quiet for the rest of the journey. Then suddenly, Joseph turned around and looked at Jonathan. “Do you recognize those fields?”
“Yes, we're at the back of Grandpa's land, ain't we?”
“Will ya be alright to get back from here?”
“Sure will. But I'm gonna run now. Supper will surely be on the table and everyone will be worried.”
“When you get there, you tell your Grandpa that you were with Old Man Joseph. Ya hear me? He'll understand, and besides, it might keep you out of trouble with Esther.” Joseph said with a wink.
“Will do. Good bye Joseph, Good bye Thunder!”
Joseph and Thunder watched as the boy ran across his Grandfather's field. His gait was hard and he was probably no faster than Joseph himself. But the boy ran free.
“The woods were good to us today Thunder. Maybe I will get a second chance. And maybe. Just maybe, I'll be able to show my face to some old friends.” Thunder looked up patiently into Joseph's eyes. “Don't worry Thunder, they'll probably like you better than me, when we visit,” he said with a chuckle. With that Joseph turned around and started back toward his place with the lantern closer to him now, as it was getting harder and harder to see. Thunder kept close watch on the way back home, they weren't use to these nightly excursions.
Jonathan barely slowed down as he opened the door and ran inside. “I'm home. I'm sorry I am late. I met a new friend Joseph and his dog Thunder, through the woods.
“We were worried, I was just going to send your Grandfather out looking for you. Your mother is still at the Arnold's waiting for that baby and you out 'who knows where'.
“I'm truly sorry Grandma. What's for supper?”
Esther straightened up over the fire and Jonathan wrapped his arms around her waist and hugged her. She reached down and completely engulfed him into her body.
“All is forgiven. Wash up and sit down.”
Jonathan did as asked and sat next to his Grandfather. “He said you would know him Grandpa.”
“What is this?” Benjamin asked.
“Joseph, He told me to tell you that I was with Old Man Joseph and you'd understand.”
Both Benjamin and Esther stopped and looked at each other over Jonathan's head. “I guess I wasn't listening,” said Benjamin.
“How is he Jonathan? Is he well?” asked Esther.
“He seems to be. He out walked with me in the forest. But Grandma, he is thin as thin can be. He said that he wanted me to come back and visit him and his dog Thunder, can I?”
Once again Esther and Benjamin looked at each other and first Benjamin nodded his head to Esther and then after barely a hesitation she did the same so only Benjamin could see. “Just make you are home for supper next time.” said Grandpa.
“I will. I can hardly wait to tell Mama.”
“Yes, she will be interested to know about your adventure for sure.” said Esther.
After supper Jonathan went out to the barn ahead of Grandpa to bed the animals. “Time can heal, Esther, “ said Benjamin.
“Yes, yes it can. Do you think Jeanette is ready?”
“He means no harm. She will be wary, but she will see.”
“We all will see,” said Esther, “yes in time.”