Happy and Sad

Epilogue: “Happy and Sad”

This is the final chapter from Wind in the Pines. It contains a wonderful fable about gathering memories and friends. I hope you enjoy it.

As we conclude this journey together at the end of another book, I want to thank you for walking along beside me. The fact that you’ve made it to the end of this book tells me these words and stories must have touched you in some way (unless you just flipped to the back pages.)

Writing this book has been a journey for me. Your reading it makes it part of your journey.

My deep desire and wish is that this book has been a good companion during this stage of your life. If you are going through a difficult time, which we all experience, I hope these stories have encouraged you.

If your current journey is smooth and unencumbered, I hope my writings have helped you look all around and count, with gratitude, the many, many blessings you are now enjoying.

Recently I spent four days hiking in North Carolina. I had looked forward to this trip for weeks. In my pack I put a copy of the manuscript that would later become the book you are now holding. I eagerly anticipated walking in the mountains during the day and then spending quiet evenings at campsites writing and reading.

But all of those plans changed on my first day as I left Max Patch, a beautiful grassy mountaintop north of the Smokies. My writing plans changed when I met “Wild Thing.”

His real name was Bill and he was a retiree from California. He’d been given the trail name, “Wild Thing” during the last twenty-five days of hiking the Appalachian Trail beginning at Springer Mountain in Georgia. During this time he had covered over 250 miles, much of it over rough mountainous terrain.

He’d made friends among the many college-age thru hikers (“thru hikers” are those brave souls who attempt to walk from Georgia to Maine on the Trail.) This five month trek of over 2000 miles is completed by only about one out of every ten who start in the spring. )

The day I encountered Wild Thing on the mountaintop at 4500 feet he was walking slowly and exhibited all of the signs of a discouraged hiker. I briefly visited with him and then he went on. I didn’t expect to see him again as I was in no hurry.

But several miles down the trail I came upon him again. Wild Thing was sitting by a stream. We talked and he shared how he had walked alone for several days and was very lonely. He had decided to leave the trail and return home when he reached the next trail town of Hot Springs, North Carolina.

Sitting there talking, I thought about all of those half-written stories in my backpack needing work. But I knew that I was in the presence of a fellow traveler who simply needed a friend to walk beside him for a while. So we began waking along together.

Wild Thing shared about his dream to hike the Appalachian Trail. He was retired from the grocery business. As he told about his family, career, and dreams I quickly realized that “Wild Thing” was a trail name given by other hikers as a tease. It was like a lifelong friend of mine who was pretty large and went by the nickname of “Tiny.”

We walked and talked over the next five miles before reaching a trail shelter. I shared that I was in no hurry to reach Hot Springs (the next trail town) and planned to camp here. Bill initially said that he was moving on to the next shelter, but then put down his pack and asked if I minded company. I told him he was welcome to stay. We visited, cooked supper together, and were joined just before dark by another hiker.

The next morning Bill started north before I did. After loading his pack on his shoulders, he came up and simply said, “Thanks for taking time to just walk with me and listen. I was lonely and ready to quit. I just needed a friend.” I prayed with him and he gave me a big hug and started down the trail. I watched as his silhouette disappeared down the winding trail.

I never saw Bill again. I hiked all of that day and part of the next without seeing one single person. There is an eeriness in being silent and alone for that period of time.

I more understood the loneliness that Bill was talking about after my two days of walking alone.

On the rest of that trip I was able to do plenty of writing. It was quiet and there was all of the solitude I needed. Writing and reflecting, I was glad I’d taken time to walk alongside a man who needed some encouragement.

I hope this book has been your companion as you’ve “walked along” these nearly two-hundred pages. If my stories have made your journey easier, my reason for writing and sharing them is satisfied.

Readers sometimes tell me, “I tried to slow down on reading each story, because I hated to reach the end of the book.” My style of short stories is such that one can read at the pace desired. You can put it down for a day, week, or months, then pick it up again and meet an old friend.

I close with a fable from the Arabian Desert. The story is told of two travelers who stopped at an oasis while traveling through the desert. Before they reached this spot the sun had set. So in the dark, they pitched their tent beside the dry riverbed full of rocks.

During the darkest part of the night a voice spoke out,

“Pick up rocks and you will be both happy and sad.”

The voice froze them with fear. Once again they heard,

“Pick up rocks and you’ll be both happy and sad.”

Hurriedly they scampered to their feet and quickly loaded their camels in the pitch black darkness. Before leaving in fear they grabbed several small handfuls of rocks and pebbles and tossed them into their packs.

Being scared by the strange voice at the oasis, they rode non stop through the rest of the night. As dawn came, they finally felt safe enough to stop.

Discussing the strange voice with the cryptic message of “Pick up rocks and you’ll be both happy and sad,” they remembered the rocks they had scooped up in the darkness. Opening their bags they were stunned to see that the rocks and pebbles they had gathered were really jewels and diamonds. And they were happy …Yet they were also sad…

They were happy… that they had gathered jewels…

They were sad… that they had not gathered more.

As I finish my part of this book – the writing, I find myself both happy and sad… I’m happy to finish this book, (although I’m not sure you ever really finish a book!)

Yet, I’m also sad. To reach the end of a dream is great but sometimes is accompanied by a natural sadness. I’ve had to write, rewrite, and even cut some stories I loved and wanted to share with you. But there will be more stories, more books, and more sharing, God willing.

My final word to you is simply this:

Pick up stones which are really jewels. . . and gather as many as possible. The jewels I refer to are not material; they are instead friends, family, faith in God, joy through trials, and the happiness that comes to us through the gift of each new day.

Gather plenty of rocks, pick up those precious jewels, gather those priceless things around you… and you will find happiness… by listening to the wind in the pines all around you.

Still gathering,

Curt Iles


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