Rough wood slides across my palm and then swings back, disturbing the early morning solitude with a bang like cannon fire as I step out into a ray of sunshine filtering down through the dewy leaves. My feet rise and fall gently upon soft spongy moss, gliding noiselessly save for the occasional crackle from a dried leaf or the snap of a stray twig. The cool air invigorates me as I begin my hike, serenaded by familiar bird songs. I whistle, trying to imitate their calls, and I wonder if they understand me. My camera, whose strap is slung across my shoulder, gently bumps against the opposite hip as I head for my favorite trail.
Ancient trees tower above me. The whine of a hundred hungry mosquitoes begins to annoy me. I stop to pick two long ferns, one for each hand, which I swish in rhythm with my stride to ward off the blood-thirsty insects.
The trail diverges and I pause, trying to decide where to go first. A faint growl from my stomach convinces my feet to turn left. The thick trees soon give way to a long stretch of shorter bushed, their thin branches heavy with ripe juicy berries. I begin to pluck the soft blue-skinned fruit and pop them into my mouth, savoring the sweet sustenance. I continue to walk, pick, eat until my fingers are sticky and I couldn’t possibly eat another; well, maybe one more.
When I am finally sated I return to the fork in the trail and begin to walk down the second path. The moss covered ground slowly gives way to sand and my feet slip a little as they try to find purchase on the shifting ground. Ferns tickle my bare forearms and leave dewy tracks across the thighs of my jeans.
I continue down a short hill and step onto a small wooden bridge. A creek gurgles as it eddies below me. I stop and place my arms on the tall railing. I lean over and watch the water flow over branches and around rocks. It’s peaceful here; the sound and motion of the water soothing.
Eventually I stand. The bridge groans in protest and creaks like a rusty hinge as I make my way across. On the other side I turn away from the path and meander along the creek. The breeze is cooler here and I breathe deeply, drawing in the cool damp air.
A few more steps and a curve in the creek and I spot the old spring-fed well. I turn and face the water, back up a few steps, and take a running leap. One shoe lands cleanly on solid ground, but cold mud oozes through the sole of the other. The mud make a slurping, sucking noise as I pry my foot from the brownish-black sludge. Once free I slog my way over to the well.
The cold, hard concrete presses against my knees as I kneel down and plunge my hands into the icy depths of the water. The water quickly numbs my fingers as I draw my palms together beneath the surface before lifting the small pool toward my mouth. Sparkling droplets dangle from my fingertips, and then drip from my chin as I guzzle the refreshing liquid. After I swallow the last icy mouthful, I look down and watch the water spiders dance across the glassy surface of the water. I lean over, letting them jug across my reflected forehead as I stare into the liquid mirror.
I stand again and turn to see the land slope upward. I crane my neck to find the point where hill meets sky. Slowly, my eyes move back downward and I find a path, nearly invisible to the unfamiliar eye. It winds up the steep grade into a vast stretch of pine forest. I fill my lungs with the fuel necessary to carry me forward and I march on, ever focused on my goal. As I climb I can feel sweat trickle down my back and through my thick hair.
As I reach the summit, as strong breeze teases and tugs at wayward curls. The wind carries with it the scent of pine. I inhale deeply. I no longer hear the friendly bird calls, but instead an eerie whistling, like a plaintive song from the forest itself as the wind moves through the tall pines. To my left I can see Otter Lake far in the distance, a misshapen aqua-blue break in a vast sea of green. My stare is diverted by a soaring silhouette. The white plumage of the head and tail become evident as it soars nearer. I stare in awe until it follows a strong updraft beyond the range of my vision.
To my right, beyond the pine forest, a rolling field of long grass and vibrant wildflowers beckons. I turn and venture forward. The unkempt stems and vines wrap around my feet, trying to slow my progress. The breeze that had, moments before, left goosebumps on my hot flesh, was largely ineffective in the presence of direct sunlight. Brilliant rays beat upon my face and shoulders. Heat soaked into the crown of my head and wet wisps of hair begin to curl around my ears and at the nape of my neck. I pull a piece of long grass and chew one end. It is warm, and the juice is slightly bitter, like a weak herbal tea.
Grasshoppers flourish here. I must be disturbing their rest, for with each step that I take hundreds of tiny living torpedoes launch themselves into my arms and legs. They leave an itchy sensation where they contact bare skin. I continue on, and am subconsciously led toward a lone maple in the center of the field. Its expansive branches provide the only immediate shade from the blistering noon-time heat. In the shadows beneath its open arms lie a fortress of prickly raspberry vines. I pluck a few of the berries, feeling the juice from their over-ripe flesh leak onto my fingers. I place a handful in my mouth and roll them across my tongue, enjoying the tart flavor. I fight my way through the clinging barbs to the trunk of the tree. The rough bark chafes my bare arms as I shimmy up the trunk. I reach the lowest branch and take hold. My biceps strain against gravity until I get one leg hooked over the branch. I pull myself up and perch there, scanning the surrounding territory like a giant bird of prey.
A movement at the edge of the field is caught in my peripheral vision, and I turn my head to see several graceful creatures bound from the cover of the trees. Their long, slender legs carry them swiftly through the thick grass. Their ears perk up and their white tails flash a warning. My eyes follow their journey across the field and into another line of trees. I lean my back against the rough structure of my throne and close my eyes. A slight breeze moves through the leaves and sets them dancing. I inhale the scent of wild beauty and sigh in absolute contentment.