This piece won 1st place in the Dungeness River Audubon Center’s High School writing contest “Tales From The Trails: How Do You Connect With Nature?” on February 19th, 2014.
It was a grand moment for me, a huge confidence boost in my writing, and it is still something I am incredibly proud of.
She feels the rain touch her skin, watches the way the fog ebbs and flows around the darkened crevices between the buildings, down the alleys and around the legs of the men who exist here in the between. It wasn’t raining, the fog barely felt moist as it touched her leggings. No, the rain was just a memory fading, reminding her to renew it before it faded completely from her mind.
Her heels clicked on the pavement as she moved down the alley between the buildings on the block where she worked. The rain on her skin meant she was tired, that she needed to get away. It meant her core was failing her, that she was losing her perspective and her balance. It reminded her to go back to the place that could heal those losses.
The next day in her apartment, a person couldn’t hear silence. The fridge hummed, the traffic and the people in other apartments contributed their voices. The phone she kept with her always, when she was in the city, sat abandoned on the coffee table. Its calendar had been cleared for two weeks, so it sat silently, waiting for its next command of how to alert its owner. The owner who wasn’t there, who wouldn’t be back for two weeks.
She stood in the silent morning. She watched the trees and the sunlight mountain beginning to be brightened. She played with her breath in the cold air, making puffs of steam, trying to make shapes. She was wrapped in a simple pair of rugged pants a practical camisole under a thick flannel shirt. Her feet felt clunky and weighted in a pair of huge hiking boots. A backpack with the day’s supplies sat ready on the edge of the stairs leading off the off white porch. She envied the man who lived here, who saw this every day. She was glad though, that he went into the city for a few weeks every now and then to take in the noise and get supplies, see the movies and keep up a bit with society. Because when their retreats coincided, he let her rent his cabin, to see the beautiful backdrops to her peace.
She stepped off the porch, grabbing the backpack as she went, just as the sun touched the first tips of the trees on the mountain. She followed an old worn path into the woods next to the cabin. She never spent much time in the cabin. She made her meals early in the morning, before dawn, then spent most of each day hiking. At night she came home exhausted, and fell into bed, barely caring to take off her muddy boots. Sometimes after a particularly exhausting and dirtying day, she’ll strip down to her camisole and a pair of soft shorts before crashing into bed.
The time she had spent in these mountains, she spent learning and exploring. She knew these mountains well, and they shared mutual respect for each other. Today she walked out to an edge of the mountain where the trail looked out over a deep valley before stopping for breakfast. Then she walked along the trail as far as she could before collapsing for a rest and for lunch. Then she spent the afternoon exploring the forest. She was always careful not to blaze another trail when she explored. She made deer trails perhaps, but nothing any more invasive than that. When she first came here, she was afraid of getting lost, but as she learned about the mountain she learned that it offered dangers, but that it also offered her safety. She felt the mountain liked her. It was more than a conglomeration of living things, it was a living thing that was built out of the living things within it. And this life liked her. It protected her from its most dangerous, and taught her about it at the same time.
Between the mountain, the fresh air, the walking, and the heavy boots, after just one day, she was already feeling more balanced and centered than she had before. She settled a few minutes later in a clearing. She was leaning against a tree, tired, but happy. Content. So many people talked about saving this kind of place. But they didn’t know enough to know what to do. And so many more people had a this place, or that place philosophy, wanting to destroy the cities to make way for the trees, or destroy the trees to make way for the cities.
But she understood that it was much more complicated than that, it had to be, because people needed both now. She needed both. Her eyes drifted closed, a small smile on her face. Confident in her mountain and in her happiness.
When she awoke a few hours later, it was dark, the only light coming from a nearly full moon overhead. She could see the fog shifting around the trees and brush. It reminded her of the fog of the city, except this kind of fog was the kind that healed her, not reminded her she needed healed. She stood up in the night air, stretching her muscles and reveling in the cool dew on her bare arms.
As she slowly walked along toward the path back to the cabin, she took in all the many shades of gray and green she could see in the moonlight. The colors shifted, the leaves moved, and a light breeze made the leaves shiver with anticipation. The night was cool, but the air was soft; it didn’t sting with cold. She could hear the sounds of the forest around her, and she knew that everything in the forest was alive around her.
When she was little, the forest was the place she ran to when she had a bad day; it was the place where she scraped her knee and didn’t care because it was too much fun to be in the woods; it was the place where everything was creepy or welcoming for each mood she ever felt.
This place, and others like it, were where she came to recharge. The city had it perks, but the forest had magic. And she couldn’t live without magic.