Old Growth

I had been drinking a lot of Robitussin at the time. It didn’t make me feel great. Most of the time I would just get woozy and throw up. But it was something to get me loopy while reading Wikipedia in my room. And, perhaps more importantly, it was something to make me feel like I wasn’t totally myself… or anybody else for that matter.

The story I want to tell isn’t some self-deprecating I-hate-college confessional though. It started on a day when I felt like I had been sitting in my room at my computer for a bit too long. Particularly one night where I remember being absolutely convinced that I was the Youtube comments section. That my consciousness had just melted into a stream of vulgar nonsense inexplicably linked to whale migration videos. I needed to get out into nature.

I had heard about a wilderness area not too far from me, nothing fancy and not too heavily trafficked, just a big swath of woodland and rivers. I figured it was perfect; I would go out in the morning and spend the day, or even maybe the night if I was really enjoying myself.

Completely convinced by the idea, the next morning I gathered some warm clothes, food, water, a sleeping bag and some Robitussin and drove out to the woods. When I got to the trailhead it was about ten in the morning and completely empty. I put my things in a hiking backpack I had borrowed from my friend and set out into the great green wilderness, Nalgene in one hand and cough syrup in the other.

It was early fall so the trees were still green and the trails were clear of any fallen brush or windswept leaves. The air was light and warm, and I was taking my time out in the woods, enjoying the sound of critters and the trees. The sun broke harshly through the leaves at first, but the farther into the woods I walked, the denser the canopy became. Even though it was still light, the warmth settled against the top of the forest and I started to feel more and more closed in and alone. I hadn’t come across any other people and it didn’t seem like it was a particularly staggering or well-kept trail, so I didn’t expect to see anyone. It wasn’t a bad feeling really, in fact it was just what I was looking for when I went out there.

I drank my Robitussin.

Over time, I started to feel as though I was brushing up against the sides of the trees as I walked down the trail. It’s a hard feeling to describe, I know the trail was wide enough that I wouldn’t be running into any brush, but I still felt as though leaves and soft bark were gently petting my shoulders. It wasn’t rough, more a kind of transience, like I was walking through the trees.

I felt woozy so I decided to sit down on a log that had fallen across an open area along the trail. I put my head in my hands and closed my eyes. I shut them as tight as I could and took a deep breath. The air felt heavy and filled with life, I could feel it sinking down into my lungs, and the blood in my veins pumping around my body. And when I opened my eyes, I saw myself sitting on the log, about three feet away from me.

I remember being calm at this point, but also very separate and away from myself. It was a lot like in a dream when you are watching yourself do something, consciousness in one place, body in the other. I saw myself get up.

He walked over to an especially large birch tree. It stood firm and noble, with roots that dug deep into the earth. It had small, circular leaves that fluttered as the wind passed through them, rippling sunlight into an earthy sparkle. Its branches thinned out from the trunk to small delicate fingertips that held each leaf gently at its stem.

I could see the life of the tree seething out from each crack in its deep white bark. I could hear the water that pumped through its veins, greening its leaves and sapping its trunk. The light and warmth that fed the tree pulsed from the inside to the pace of my heart.

I looked down at him again. He had kneeled down to a big patch of moss that grew along the thick root of the birch tree. He bent over and stared deeply into it. The more he stared at the moss the more it came to look like the dense canopy of trees that covered him. It was a forest of his own; one that he wasn’t subject to. He took his hand and placed it on the moss, petting it. Slowly, though, he began to press his hand harder and harder into the moss, flattening it, for a moment. The dark print of his hand that was pushed into it slowly disappeared as the hairs of moss stood back on their ends again; exhaling a small essence of life that it had suckled from the birch tree.

He frowned. Then, violently, he ripped the moss from its roots and held the handful of green strings in his hand. He turned his head and looked at me, hairs of moss falling through his fingers. His eyes were glazed and empty. A gaunt, pale waif crouched expressionless beneath one of the lords of life. He picked himself up and walked towards me, hands falling to his sides, still holding tightly what was left of the dead moss in his hand. 

I, repulsed, tried to move but couldn’t. I tried to look away but was transfixed. All I could do was stare into the emptiness of his eyes and watch as he walked towards me, into me. I shut my eyes.

When I opened them, I was alone again. I walked over to the tree and sat its base. I craned my head up towards the sky and let the moss in my hand fall to the ground.