Earlier tonight I read a post by another Slice of Life Story Challenge writer. It was about getting lost in the woods. And it reminded me of a moment during my writing retreat last fall when I, too, got lost in the woods.
I will say up front that, in the moment, it felt less like I got lost and more like the woods tried to absorb me. It wasn’t a good feeling.
In September, I went upstate for two gorgeous and glorious weeks at an artists residency. I had a beautiful studio, a lovely view, gourmet meals, four amazing artists and writers to share my dinners and down time with. It was heaven.
There is a small wooded area behind the house where I stayed. “Small,” in that it doesn’t stretch on for hundreds of miles or something dramatic like that, but large in comparison to my day-to-day encounter with woods. As a child, I spent my summers in the Adirondack mountains. I was in the woods every day and felt entirely happy and comfortable there. I have spent the last 30-plus years in this huge, clattering city, and my time spent in the woods would be … nil.
Add to that what I’ve realized is a creeping dread I’ve developed when it comes to the woods, a dread that has formed slowly enough for me not to notice it until it was suddenly in my chest, fully formed.
But I was determined to go for a walk in the woods. We’d been told there were two trails, a red trail and a blue trail. We’d been told that the blue trail was the better maintained, easier trail (this turned out to be 100 percent not true). We’d been told that there were blazes painted on the trees and we just had to keep an eye out. Yep.
That picture is the trailhead. See the nice arrows pointing toward the blue trail and the red trail? See how easy this walk in the woods was going to be?
The moment I entered the woods, I questioned the wisdom of my decision to head out, alone, without telling anyone I was going into the woods. I didn’t turn back. I set out on the blue trail because I am not brave in the woods. The blue trail immediately disappeared: path completely overgrown, not a single visible blaze after the first one. So I turned back and stopped at the trailhead and decided to take a chance on the red trail, the steeper trail that would be harder to follow.
I follow the blazes — so much easier to find than on the blue trail — and walked along trying hard to convince myself that I had no reason to be getting a stomach ache over being alone in the woods. I followed the blazes and started up a small hill. I saw a blaze ahead of me, and another a ways ahead of that tree in front of me, but I stopped walking. I stopped because I wanted to listen to a bird song I’d never heard before. It was a strange, almost hollow sound, and I looked up to see if I might spot the singer. I stopped in my tracks. I didn’t turn around. I just stopped walking. I looked up into the trees, but didn’t see what bird might be sending out that strange hollow call. So I stopped looking up at the trees. I brought my gaze down …
And there were no blazes on any of the trees in front of me. Not one.
I pretended to be calm about it. I took a few steps forward, telling myself that the blaze I’d seen would, of course, magically appear once I was closer to the tree. Of course that didn’t happen. There was nothing on that tree or any of the others.
I turned around to walk back … but I couldn’t find any blazes on any of the trees behind me, either. I walked back to where I’d looked up for the bird then tried to walk back out on a different route. No blazes, and the path I was walking was totally unfamiliar. I went back up to the spot where I’d stopped for the bird then tried again to get back out of the woods. No blazes and the path I was walking was not the path I’d walked in either of the other attempts at escape, nor was it the path I’d walked to get up to that point on the hill.
The thing was, I knew I wasn’t even ten minutes from my door, knew that the woods would clear somewhere very near where I was standing. But I was pretty certain I wasn’t getting out of those woods.
Okay, so here I am writing about my experience, so you know I got out. I stood on the trail for a while, refusing to go back up the hill only to find myself on another wrong path. Finally, I saw a tree whose half-fallen branches I had fought my way past on the way up the hill. And I could see the path running in front of that tree. I pushed and shoved my way through an overgrown area to get to the tree, refusing to walk back up the path and think I could find the way to walk down to that tree.
When I reached the tree … I no longer saw the path. I’m not kidding. But I did see another tree I remembered and cut across some more overgrown business to get to that tree. And then I found the path and found my way back to the trailhead and got my citified self out of those woods.
This is the entrance to the woods. Doesn’t it look like the entrance to a magical kingdom? Yeah. Magical. Kind of like the Hotel California.
You can read the not-at-all-creepy post that inspired this memory here.
It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to.
Or … it’s not too late to join in!