He lost his mother at fourteen.
For as long as he could remember he would hear her coughing at two or three o’clock in the morning. It was a loud hacking cough followed by a gagging sound as she coughed up phlegm spotted with blood. She had tuberculosis, but the family was too poor for any treatment that could save her.
Through it all, she kept their modest home clean and tidy. In the end, the doctor said she worked herself to death. The priest said there was nothing anyone could do, it was God’s will.
The day she died, he went out into the fields. It was almost Spring. The peasants whistled, and whips cracked above their powerful draft horses hauling the heavy iron plows. The earth opened herself to the great metal claw. Furrows ran into the distance as far as the eye could see.
His thin body lifted and sank as he stepped over mounds of turned earth. He couldn’t understand why God would be so unfair. “Poor mother,” he thought, “she worked so hard to raise my brother and me. She kept our family together through tough times. Surely she deserved better than to die alone leaving a family still to raise?”
He wandered out across the fields into the pine and linden forest, which the nobles claimed as their own. There is nothing so vast, so forbidding, so black as a German forest.
He wandered for hours going deeper into the woods until he almost lost his way. Exhausted he collapsed against a huge fir tree. Tears welled in his eyes. Again and again, he ran the same question through his mind.
He was alone, and stillness enveloped him. He could hear nothing but his thoughts. His heart was heavy — empty. The trees began to blur, and it seemed like darkness was smothering him like a blanket.
Then he began to hear faint sounds. First, the soft crackle of snapping twigs. The chip of a lark on a nearby branch. From the distant forest the echo of birdsong as if announcing the coming of Spring.
He could hear the soft splashing water over uneven rocks from a nearby stream. He began to feel the warmth of the earth beneath him even though a chill in the drifting shadows cast by the swaying trees swept his face.
Colors began to reveal themselves to him. Buds and shoots of Spring — sharp details of fresh green burst before him. Little crowns of flowers and trees falling off into the shadows with touches of blue pulled his eye.
He saw the unexpected sharp highlights that the late afternoon sun splashed on the stretches of green. The white reflected light of the sun in the distant tree tops attracted his eye. Highlights of yellow danced across tree branches. Rays of light slid down thick, gnarled trunks.
The forest no longer dark and cold around him, began to take on a life of its own. What seemed, at first, to be only stillness and darkness exploded into color and light. The sounds of the forest echoed the joy he felt sweep over him.
He surrendered that day to Mother Nature. He felt the presence of his mother’s love as if her arms were around him whispering in his ear, “I’ll always love you.” Mother Nature became his new mother. He would dedicate the rest of his life to her.
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