I put my camping gear in the car and drove to my brother’s house. Stanley was ready; he had his john-boat strapped in his pick-up truck. The two of us had not been out to play together in over forty-five years. I brought food and drink for the weekend. Everything loaded; we headed north toward a wild life preserve. My face wouldn’t stop grinning as we rattled off the interstate and toward the places where wild animals roam freely. A heavy rain washed us into the camping area where an osprey glared at us from a dead branch in the top of a tall tree. We huddled under a lean-to and ate sandwiches, waiting for the rain to end.
We set up our tent and gathered fire wood. Then we walked down the hill to the edge of the lake where we saw a great blue heron, focused and fishing on one leg. Smaller birds called from tree to tree over our heads. A long rambling hike through the woods awakened our appetites. Just as day light left us, a dainty gray fox walked boldly through the camping area, sniffing for food. I loved it, seeing her fearlessness so close to where we sat. Stanley made a fire that crackled and warmed us while we ate and talked. I listened and learned to know my brother all over again. We slept, side by side, in our sleeping bags, lulled by the croaks of frogs and calls of night birds in the distance.
Morning came with strong coffee. We rowed the boat into the middle of the lake and angered a beaver who slapped his tail against the water’s surface. We saw a river rat swimming through a cove, thick with lily pads. Later, we walked through the woods, startling raccoons and counting so many deer that we lost count along the way. I took pictures of wild flowers and bright fungal growths. We rowed across the water to a field where buffalo were grazing.
Both of us collected rocks and pieces of drift wood. One piece of drift wood caught our eyes at the same moment. Smooth with a spiral worn in its center, Stanley was first to bend over and touch it. “The one who touches it first gets to claim it.” I was enjoying myself so I chose not to argue about ownership.
Back home and having returned to work’s routine, I heard the Fed Ex truck squeal to a stop. Inside a package from Stanley, I found that cherished piece of drift wood. Stanley had carved into it the images of the heron, the buffalo and the little gray fox. Side by side the wild animals told me that our time together had meant as much to my brother as it had meant to me. This I believe: The love of family comes to life where the wild animals roam freely.