Atop a rocky hill not far from here leans a tall fir tree choked by encroaching oaks; embattled roots clash beneath the surface, it seems, but I’ve faith the fir will hold ground; after all, this Christmas Day’s breeze smelled distinctly evergreen.

Today’s afternoon was one of unseasonable warmth; filtered sun shone brightly through the boughs and warm, rising air carried dusty fern spores through glimmering, golden beams toward the origin of the flare. 

Though still far from springtime, the world seemed invigorated; chipmunks dashed, insects buzzed and — capitalizing on the nice weather — Cody and I huffed up a steep trail to the base of some limestone cliffs. 

Careful to avoid poisonous twigs, we climbed the slippery precipice and emerged atop a sunny bluff between two rivers; my astigmatism offered me lens flares in pink and orange as I looked east toward the Sandy; Cody sat in the green grass below an oak and gazed at the confluence.

I don’t know how much time passed in quiet before Cody noticed a shimmer to the north; the sun, here above the tree-line more potent and direct, reflected off the bald head of a tattooed man who stood atop a cliff overlooking the Columbia. We walked toward him and he turned; an inky teardrop hinted at hardship; the surrounding intricacy — once black, now jade green — served little to distract from the mark below his right eye. 

He asked me if I had the time; I looked at my phone and recited the numbers as I saw them.

“3:16?” he checked his hearing.

“Yep.”

Tacked with rusty nails to the side of a tall, leaning fir tree, above the man’s shining head, some number of feet from the high cliff was a decaying, cross-shaped memorial for someone who stumbled upon salvation through gravity. Cody feared for the ink-marked man.

“Are you okay up here?” Cody asked.

“Yeah,” the man responded. “I’m just up here with God.”

Silence.

“Need prayers?” Cody offered.

“Nope,” he said with a tired smile, “Just thinking about Jesus. He was abandoned by everyone and He’d never do the same. Not to anyone.”

We all became more aware of the sound of the breeze through the boughs as my brother and I paused to process.

“My name is Cory,” I dumbly interjected and extended my hand.

“I’m Benjamin.”

His fingertips were calloused.

“…Merry Christmas,” I offered. 

“Merry Christmas.”

Cody and I left the cliffside summit and began our descent back into the forest canopy. It was after some musing that I decided to climb back up to ask the man if I could take his picture; whether from numbers or names, I’d been struck by an overwhelming sense of serendipity and I imagined a mugshot would go nicely with an account I’d a plan to write.

Pulling my body over the mossy boulder, I found myself, again, on that grassy, green area beneath the oak; the hilltop sat in silence; the summit empty; the fir boughs softly swayed and the warm breeze offered me a breath of sweet evergreen.

“Benjamin.” I called twice then stood in the stillness, suppressing my own breathing to listen. After a few moments had passed it became evident he’d left.

This picture is of the place because I couldn’t find the man. It’s a bit overexposed; I didn’t account for the brightness of the light.

BENJAMIN

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