By Sylan Lewis
PROMPT — I will not rest until ...
The tension starts in my jaw, as it always does. A clenched-teeth premonition of an overwrought moment. It spreads to my neck and my head trembles, just a bit. My eyes shut. Breathe deep. Chest rises, falls, jaw releasing halfway through the exhale. Eyes reopen, a little wet, and immediately blink to combat the harsh sunlight. Ah yes, the sun. That’s right, I’ve been out here for a few hours now. Miles from a paved surface. Miles from another human but surrounded by life. The sun. The world has a green tint, here, from the cellophane tree cover filtering the light. It pushes through and heats my face and heats the ground and bestows itself unto the ferns and the mountain laurel and the poison ivy and the blackberry bushes. And so it becomes life and then becomes birds and insects and these damn mosquitoes and—I think I just saw a red fox skulking away—and—oh, this deer is just watching me. Majesty. Don’t move. Just watch— Eventually I move, because that’s what living things do. At least that’s what a teacher told me one time. I step back toward the trail but it’s okay because my deer had already lost interest in me and bounded off for some other piece of life. My foot leaves the deep-green-moss-covered boulder from which I surveyed the world and I’m on the trail again. I turn north and see that little line of bare earth and fallen leaves and pine needles and broken twigs and mud and rocks winding its way through the trees, and all along little limbs of life reach across the path waving as I pass with leafy hands as if to say “you may pass me and leave me behind but I will not be ignored.” As if to say “there is a way forward for you, but you cannot take it without touching me.” As if to say “this is my sun and my home and I share them with you” and “please pass with care, for though I am resilient, still I can break” and “you will know me by my thorns and by the blood I draw from you.” I walk. Somewhere ahead I hear water rushing. I see the trail climb and turn east, so I climb and turn east. I’ve walked far and I feel it. I breathe deep. The trail rises again, then falls, then rises, then falls, all along the torrent grows louder, building. Again, a rise, and at the crest I see the great rocks and the water spilling from them, stony teeth in the middle of a forest unclenched and releasing their whitewater tension. The pool below looks deep clear and cool and bright and surrounded by little leafy limbs waving come on in the water’s great. I strip and jump and the sun heats me and the water cools and I open my wet eyes.
Somewhere in these woods my deer carries on. Maybe she has stopped for the moment to inspect some other spectacle. Maybe I still linger in her mind, the strange interloper, as she still bounds through mine. Maybe she knows where to find my soul, and imagines my joyous reunion. Maybe she could lead me to it, and watch in wonder while I retake my place among the ferns and foxes and fearless ones. But she is gone, and the trail is still here, and so am I.
Sylan Lewis is a Philadelphia-based programmer, poet, and author. Since studying computer engineering at the University of Virginia, his writing has explored the intersections of self, nature, society, and technology.