I entered the forest three different ways, and each time stumbled upon the same fallen tree, in a wood full of them. Fallen limbs are as common as brown leaves in the cold season. A baby squirrel sits perched on a decaying stump. I tap the bark on the closest trunk and way up above a raven squawks to my rhythm.
It takes me back to those nature walks they made us do when we were kids. They’d have us pick up pine cones and acorns and make art out of them with Elmer’s glue and rubber cement. But as a grown man it’s different. There are slopes where a misplaced foot equals broken ankle. There are thickets filled with thorns that cut through denim like paper. The waters in an icy creek rustle by in the valley down below.
But I am here.
I have come here alone, armed only with an umbrella to shield me from the freezing rain coming down from above, seeking something, answers here among the bare branches, white skies keeping heaven and I apart…for a season.
And yet this is where I belong.
I can remember the times when we threw leaves at each other instead of Xbox sticks, back when summers held more fireflies than LED displays. I won’t forget that first time I saw sap coming out of a hole in a maple tree and got an education from my Pops on what real syrup was.
My breath travels upwards toward the tops of trees, toward the painted lips and sweet potato pies of tomorrow.
I swear I hear her calling my name in this place, an embodied echo of who I once was, though she is long gone and could never stand any place where she might get her hands dirty.
But all of that is buried in the holes under the brush beneath me, covered over by brittle limbs riddled with fungi, signifying a long forgotten flatline, because no one heard it fall.
I come to these woods alone so that I won’t be disturbed. The sweet smell of a cigar twists and turns through the morning breeze as light grenades pound on the nylon shield just above my head.
I taste the river as it brushes across my tongue. Then I swallow it whole like the pride of mine that has seeped into the earth below like much needed rain.
It’s not a lake with a funny name adorned by a topless half-Italian girl in tight leather pants, nor the words of a Colorado woman named after a nation of billions.
But still, here, I am pure.