Raking a brush through her long, brown hair, she divided the mass into two, then braided both sides, tying them off with rubber bands. As much as she loved to feel the wind lifting the hair and blowing it back, she knew it wasn’t always safe to leave it wild and free.
What? Who said so? Yet, she knew it was true. It wasn’t safe.
The red handkerchief was ready to roll and tie across her forehead, then she quietly turned the knob on the bedroom door and listened. Walking silently down the hall, through the kitchen and dining room, she was at the door. The rush of her successful escape caused her to rush, just a little, and she was out the door and running across the back yard.
Her hair wasn’t loose and flying like she wished, but instead, her braids thumped on her back as she ran across the expanse of the open yard and into the underbrush-thick woods. Not until the house was safely out of sight did she slow to a hurried walk.
She slowed more as the scent of the woods met her nose. The deep smell of the earth, the pine and the green of the tree leaves calmed her heart, the sun shining through here and there warmed her face, and the cool air touched her cheeks. The large mass up ahead was a beloved tangle of deadwood, cracked and bleached from years of weather, but she didn’t stop.
Instead, she concentrated on finding the deer trail that lead through the thick line of trees and deadwood and onto the path that ran along the edge of the open field. The open field was alight in the sun, beckoning, waving tall grasses and blueberry bushes in the breeze. It would take awhile to trek across the field, but not that long if she found the path. That path would lead to the powerline road and then the going would be much easier.
She broke out of the thickets short of where she should have, so it took a bit of a battle to reach the path. The tall grass was taller than her, and it insisted on wrapping itself around her legs. Pushing the grass away did no good; it just slapped back with insistence. Stumbling through, she finally broke free of the grass to alight on the path.
Slowly lifting her head, she looked around. The beauty of the wide, open field hit her senses from left to right. The field rolled and dipped and rose and dipped again. Off in the distance was the mountain, the forest cut in half by the powerlines. Glancing up at the sky, she knew the weather would hold for the day, and her journey would be pleasant as always.
Less than half of the distance to her mountain destination was this winding, turning, rocky, rooty path that took concentration and time to navigate. She had no choice but to put her head down and walk carefully.
The path ended at the beginning of the powerline road, though it wasn’t really a road at all. It was just two rutted tracks with the grasses bush-hogged short, but it was smooth and easy to run. And that’s what she did with braids once again slapping her back.
She imagined riding her horse along this dirt road, running all out with her hair flowing back with the horse’s speed and the sharp slaps of the horse’s mane against her cheeks.
What horse? There’s no horse! Well, there was a horse!
There must have been a horse, she thought, because when she slowed back to a walk, she wasn’t even breathing hard.
She came to a stop at the point where the road turned to go up the mountain. From this vantage point, the mountain always looked too big, too formidable, too threatening for an 8 year old girl to climb, and it looked like the path was as vertical as the ladder leaning against the house back home. As impossible as it first looked, she knew her destination was only half way up and not visible from the bottom, and she knew the path up wasn’t really that steep. Sinking her head back down, chin to chest, she began the climb.
The first part of the climb was the steepest, and it was also the shortest. That one hitch up brought her to a small field at the actual mountain’s foot. The powerline road ran along the right side of the small field, not far away from a line of pine trees that marked the edge of a lowland forest.
Head still down, her eyes picked up a path running to the right, toward the pine forest. That path was never there before, even though it looked like it had seen more than a little bit of traffic.
Why didn’t I see this trail before? Where does it go? Who made this path?
As soon as her right foot landed on the beginning of that path, everything changed. And, everything stayed the same. Reeling, she stood still and tried to adjust to what was happening.
Moments later, her eyes began to interpret the images sent to her brain. One set was the image of what she knew was there – the pine trees ahead of her, the small open field behind her and her feet just off the powerline road. The other set of images was the same, yet different. In this one, the trees weren’t all pine trees, and the open field behind her wasn’t open. Instead of the powerline road, there was only a wide path with plenty of hoof marks and droppings.
She began to feel alarm, though it wasn’t because of the differing visions her eyes were seeing. No, she sensed danger. Crouching down so that her head wasn’t above the tall grass lining each side of this new, strange path, she went into stealth mode, carefully laying down each foot silently.
She knew the path wasn’t long. Somehow, she knew. As expected, the path led up then turned left to cut through the trees that were pine one instant, maple the next. She knew it wouldn’t be long before the woods opened up to a small clearing, and she realized all at once that she couldn’t wait to come to that clearing.
Still, the alarm, the danger she felt grew stronger with each step toward the clearing she knew was there. She crouched even lower to duck under a low hanging limb without disturbing it and found she had reached the edge of the clearing.
There it is! Across the clearing was the … not a shed, not a tent, but a shelter. The silence was deafening. There was no smoke from the cook fire, no breeze through the trees, no sound at all. When her vision flitted back and forth as it had done since stepping foot onto this new path, this time it showed the shelter, then nothing.
Her vision changed again. This time, the color was drained out of what she saw and a tremendous hum sounded in her ears. She went down first to one knee, then the other.
They’re all gone! They’re gone…
Continue on to Awakening Part II: The Clearing...