The next day we hiked to a waterfall in the sweltering Tennessee woods, a journey of mosquitoes, whining meniscus, and arthritic toes. But we were out there, man. Our much fitter friend tactfully stopped occasionally to take pictures, allowing us time to sweat and breathe.

This kind of thing, but better.

Miles are longer than they used to be, but we made it to the falls, eased our achy parts down onto the rocks and put our feet in the icy water, watching a bunch of kids climb around barefoot over the rocks underneath a futile sign that said, “Control Your Children.” Either the parks department has never met children or it’s a lame attempt at legalese. Their warnings would be more appropriate for people who are aging but not admitting it.

 As I watched the water tumble down I thought about how much I love wild places, even semi-wild places, and how much my mother loves them, too. I tried to remember just how long it has been since she has seen one. And how she never will again. So despite my chattering knees, I’ll take those moments for as long as I can still get to them.

Dusk settled onto the campsite that night, stars peeped through the tree tops, satellites zoomed past, and quiet settled over the campground. Wind swayed the upper branches, black against the deepening blue, with whispers that sounded like a message that I couldn’t quite make out.

I hope Heaven, if there is one, is a custom job. I can’t imagine why anyone would want streets of gold any more than a gold toilet. But a porch swing on a cool morning and a mug of hot coffee with my mom, just one more time, or a flat rock at the bottom of a waterfall while cold water splashes over hot feet. Or stillness so deep the message blowing through the treetops is clear.