ACROSS THE WOODED HILL is a love song. It's a love song to my son.
ACROSS THE WOODED HILL
Alas my son you come to me where once you did belong
Your gentle face is bolder now your back so straight and strong
And lips that kissed me tenderly they kiss me tender still
And bid me watch you as you go across the wooded hill.
Across the wooded hill, my son and I cannot go too
The song you hear the piper play he plays for only you
So do not tarry here with me for I can feel a chill
And soon the sun will lay himself across the wooded hill
No I have never been, my son, where you are bound to go
I know not if the air is sweet when e’er the wind should blow
But I have prayed you come this far and you’ve a mighty will
So always shall I pray for you across the wooded hill
Oh, ever shall I pray for you across the wooded hill.
In the house of my childhood I grew up hearing this little saying:
A son is a son till he takes him a wife
A daughter’s a daughter the rest of her life.
I had seen evidence of this and felt it to be true. John is our only son, and his absence was profound. The loss was sweetly softened every time I received a letter or a phone call from overseas; a woman with a strong Welsh brogue telling us how much she loved our boy; a mission president saying the same. The mailbox took on a personality of its own, glowing when a letter from him arrived. We squished together around the phone on Mother’s Day and Christmas Day just to hear the familiar sound of his voice. When it was time for him to come home Dave and I travelled to England to retrieve him. The first night the three of us shared a small room in a hotel in Bristol. We had prayed together, and Dave and I had climbed into our bed. Lights out, I heard my boy crawl out from under his sheets and quietly kneel at the side of the little cot next to our bed. I laid in silence and let my pillowcase catch the tears. He looked so young, and so wide-eyed frightened to return to the real world. I ached with the knowing…knowing that the sweetness would rub off soon, that he would once again join the ranks of college boys doing college boy things.
But gratefully, he has kept so much of the beauty that infused into him as he served his mission. I see it when he teaches, when he prays, when we discuss deep and spiritual things. I see it when he interacts with young people. And old. It was a good walk, that one across the wooded hill.
And here’s something even luckier: John took him a mighty fine wife. She loves him with all her heart. Ashley is a wonderful mother to his three darling children. And, even luckier yet, she loves me… just the way I am.
I am not particularly in love with this recording. It’s nice to have it preserved, but it didn’t seem to capture the feeling of the tune for me. In all my years of live performance there have been just a few times when I feel like we were one with the song. One of these times was at a concert in the beautiful old First Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake City. It was at a Thanksgiving Concert, the year Johnny left for his mission. It was also one month after the passing of my nephew, Clayton Hansen. Clay had crashed on his motorcycle in October. We kept a vigil at the hospital for 8 days, night and day, praying for him to heal. In that time his beautifully formed body repaired itself. The bruises became lighter, the scrapes turned to scabs then became new flesh again. But he was unconscious, because his head had hit the asphalt without a helmet. His brain was drastically swollen and would not heal. Finally, on the eighth day the doctors told my brother and his wife that there was no hope, there was no brain activity. There is a little corner in my memory bank where the guttural groan of my brother, as he told us the news, haunts me still. We huddled in the ICU waiting room and cried. George and Cyndy chose to extend the gracious spirit of their son by donating his organs. More than a dozen people now live, hopefully in a more perfect state, because of their gift.
John pulls his son Parker across a snowy hill.