A boy walks in a forest. He walks and walks and walks, knowing that there is an end to the forest, that he will one day emerge from the trees, but for the moment has no sense of approaching the sunlight. The forest is beautiful; the boy finds companions in the birds, comfort in the ferns, solace in the redwoods. It is magnificent, even, but not without a sense of stagnation. Like every day will be the same (and has been for years) and while pleasant for a while, the forest is not somewhere to stay.
So the boy walks on, the whispered crackle of dried twigs and gentle thud of his boots on the musty soil resounding through the trees. Though the forest lends the boy a sense of fantasy, as if his daily explorations, his joys and sorrows, his triumphs and failures are his to keep. His days in the forest are difficult; the nights are cold, the days are hot, and too often, he asks himself why. Why he walks. What exactly he seeks.
One spring morning, the boy wakes up among the wildflowers. He smells of smoke, but the fire he fell asleep by has long gone out. The forest holds its breath, watching over him, and all he wants is to turn back over and resume sleeping. Before he turns over, though, he glimpses a light in the trees. At first he dismisses it as the dawn, but he remembers how the sun usually has to rise above the trees before the warmth washes over him. Today is different.
The boy gathers his things: a knapsack with a few supplies, some colorful feathers he found, a bracelet his mother once gave him, and the bird he trapped the night before. Yes, that’s everything. Right? Yes, it has to be. It needs to be. He takes off towards the light, and his companions chirp and whistle as his faster footsteps march through the forest. They get louder, more frantic, more urgent, but still the boy can’t help but feel he left something behind. If he went back to look, he would not know where to go. The trees are too thick, and for all he knows, they aren’t even there anymore. All he can be sure of is the trail in front of him, the belongings in his sack behind him, and the gradually bluing sky above him.
Faster and faster he marches towards the light, towards the radiant door in the trees in front of him, wondering what could be at once so appealing and menacing. And as his feet carry him forward, he suddenly understands. The light at the end of the forest has dawned on him.
Through all the lonesome nights, through the blistering days, through the icy winds, never once did the boy want to cry. Now he has reached his goal, the goal that he has been chasing for years, the presumable but intangible end that had previously existed only as a figment of his imagination. Many a night has he dreamed of marching out of the forest, escaping the monotony of treading forward aimlessly day by day, of freeing himself from the blindness of the trees. And now, as he stands, gazing at the forest’s end, a hot lump climbs his throat. No, he thinks. I have done what I came here to do.
His feet finally thud to a halt. The boy looks back into the forest. I must have left something. I’m sure of it. I’ll just go back, and I will return to here tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow.
The sun beats relentlessly on his back, though. Taking the first step into the meadow seems treacherous. He can not imagine, after so many years, that the day has finally come when he must bid adieu to the birds, rip himself away from the protection of the redwoods, stand up from the ferns, and part with the forest forever. So he turns back around once more, back to the trees.
And his feet will not budge. Stepping forward into the light, into the exposure of the open land would be difficult. Stepping backward into the protection of adventures past would be impossible. So, once more, the boy turns. He puts his hands on his face, which suddenly felt strong and square, the chin of a boy replaced with the jaw of a man. His soft skin had been replaced with sandpapery scruff, and he drew his hands down again. In the light they were tanned and strong, bearing the scars from triumphs and failures alike. He glances at his boots, which the sun reveals to be weathered and dirty, but comfortable and sewn tightly together.
A deep breath. A heart beat. A step forward.
-MC, June 16 2012