Follow the thin dirt trail along the forest ridge. Mind the rocks and roots. Trust the meandering path and the late-afternoon sun beckoning behind the leaves. The way rises and falls and then opens onto a quiet bank beside the river.
The water is a mirror. Water-striders are sparks flitting across a ribbon of reflected sky. The fish peck at clouds. Ripples expand in crisscrossing circles, making doorways to imaginary worlds.
There are no other footprints here, but there are coal scars in the sand: the memory of campfires and good company.
Why not sit down and stay for a while?
The maple tree bows at the edge of the river, its trunk a perfect arch. Its roots are gnarled into the muddy, mossy bank, holding steady as the tree stoops to reassure the flowing water, “I am here.”
These two old friends have weathered many years side-by-side. Scorching heat, swelling rain, and brittle cold have aged them into fond familiarity.
The tree’s crooked fingers break the mirror surface of the water, peaceful ripples skimming and snaking in ribbons along the sinuous pull of the current. Leaves drop and become small, golden boats riding down the river’s course.
A grey day, soft around the edges. Calm. The air flirts with the trees, their leaves shimmering and rustling and shaking. I open the windows and the breeze comes fluttering inside, bringing liveliness to sleepy, stuffy rooms.
Insects drone and the distant sound of a train horn blows and lawn mowers hum.
The sun is hazy behind the clouds, a diffuse brightness painting everything in subtle, silvery strokes.
I sink down onto cushions with an old, familiar book and settle into the comfort of a few stolen moments.
Breathe. Breathe in deep and slow and fill my lungs with sky.
There is room to breathe now that the heat has subsided. The damp, earthy smell of autumn has come into the air and the chill of not-quite-frost laces the edges of the night.
There is a shifting restlessness in the rustle of the leaves. Tree branches rattle, hollow, as though they are confirming to each other, “It’s almost time. Get ready.” Soon they will draw into themselves, crowns aflame, and sink into their roots.
For me there is the anticipation of cool night breezes, hot tea, and falling into layers of blankets while crickets and katydids sing their subdued, late-summer songs.
The ground beneath my back, comforting as a hug. Maybe a little lumpy and fraught with the potential for creepy crawlies, but still—the earth is an anchor as I sprawl in the grass and look up into the dizzying blue sky.
I’m a child again imagining myself climbing the tall storm-tower clouds. Or I’m grown and huddled up with my friends on a chilly summer night. Together we search for the brief, bright streamers of falling stars while coyotes yip and loons call over the distant water.
It’s a solace to fold myself down, be small, and bask in immensity.
The darkness folds down in satin layers, summer softening the transition into night. Cotton clouds flash and flicker along the horizon, and a few stray fireflies drift through the humid air, signaling back to the distant storm. The clicking, murmur, and chatter of frogs and insects fills the trees.
High in the sky, the bright spot of Jupiter waits for the waning moon to come for a late-night rendezvous.
The hours pass and the excitement of dusk settles. The stuttering call of the Barred Owl comes out of the forest beyond. Its round, welcome, and deep-voiced repetitions reassure me—all is well.
Grass, vines, clover, prickly thistle, orange jewelweed, swamp lilies, burrs, and bright-red wild strawberries grow by the river. Black wasps with long, shiny bodies circle lazily around the brambles and the buds—faeries flitting, untroubled, over this tangled mess of a kingdom.
August is probably much too late to think of mowing this forgotten patch of land where rabbits, groundhogs, frogs, wild turkeys, and deer have made themselves at home.
I push the roaring, sputtering machine just enough to appease the neighbors—the citrusy scent of cut herbs and damp earth filling the air—and leave the rest for the inhabitants who actually live here.
The grass is thick and long here, whispering against my footsteps as I follow the neglected path. There has been too much rain, and water has made the earth silty soft. Sticky mud cakes my shoes and may never come off.
I don’t mind.
The wondering is enough to urge me on—skirting the edges of the flood, threading into the trees and around the dark, expanding pools. White moths flutter past, the flame crown of a Pileated Woodpecker darts from trunk to trunk, and the decaying bones of a frog wait patiently for the wild to take them home.
Fog softens the bare branches and sits heavy on the forest floor. The trees fade layer by layer into the distance and the land uproots itself—imaginary islands floating in a soft dream world.
We could be anywhere. Even the most familiar paths are new and alive with mystery. Unknowing, we have slipped into the thin places, where wild things dwell.
Time expands in the fog. There is no sun to mark the hours. There is only what we choose to do with our steps as our feet move through the damp, rustling leaves.
Wild roses grow in tangles beside the river and imbue the air with sweetness. Their scent is soft, mellow, friendly—it does not have the sting of manufactured perfume.
The flowers are five pink petals open wide around a sunburst of yellow. They do not grow in tight, layered spirals on rigid stalks. Instead they climb in laughing sprays of leaves and buds, their winding vines bursting with the excitement of bumblebees.
They are a secret folded into the curves of the river, a delight as I glide past in the grey, early hours.