Walking in the dark

Walking through a dark forest without a flashlight is an exercise in trust: trusting your feet to find the trail, trusting chance not to place a new fallen tree at shin level, trusting that a storm won’t blow in — for there’s no hurrying this slow shuffle. Over the chanting crowd of katydids in the trees, I hear the thin, whispery alarm calls of flying squirrels. I stop and peer at an almost vertical row of glowing spots a few feet off the trail: foxfire.

The damp air is an olfactory smorgasbord of molds and fermentation. As my eyes adjust, I begin to discern different flavors of darkness, too: here the rich black shadows of trees, there the cafe-au-lait openings of trail or blow-down. I feel less helpless now, more in control. But no sooner do my feet and eyes grow accustomed to their new normal state than the restless mind is off again, and I have to keep calling it back: Heel! Stay!

Is it loneliness that prompts it to wander like that? If I were sharing this darkness with others right now — say, outside a federal penitentiary in Georgia, cupping a candle flame — would I be better able to maintain focus? If instead of myself I were, in fact, concentrating all my thoughts on some victim of the criminal injustice system on his last, too-short walk into permanent darkness, wouldn’t my own hopes and dreams fade into the background, as faint as foxfire?

The sound of a very small shower approaches. I take my hat off to relish the tap of its millipede feet on my close-cropped scalp, but it’s already past. An odd reaction, perhaps — a sign that, deep down, I might still crave another’s touch.

Somehow I find the brushy intersection where the Short Way Trail leads down off the ridge, and soon I am seeing a light among the trees. Look, nobody’s home! Blinking dots of light in the window where an ethernet unit sends and receives from a world-wide web.

And how is it, I wonder as I enter the house, that I managed to walk all that way without blundering into a single spider web? The equinox may not be until Friday, but autumn is already here. Or as the book of Jeremiah puts it: The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.

Rest in peace, Troy Davis.

8 Replies to “Walking in the dark”

  1. Here in the Ystwyth Valley the Autumn is truly upon us. The morning walk along the swollen river banks yesterday yielded three hand-sized fragrant field mushrooms that together with an egg from the Warrens next door, served as my breakfast. (I think that you wouldn’t coracle on these turbulent waters with the sang froid you mustered back in May!)

    Your description of your walk at Plummer’s Hollow is delicious. ‘an olfactory smorgasbord of molds and fermentation’ makes my mouth water, and ‘soon I am seeing a light among the trees. Look, nobody’s home! Blinking dots of light in the window where an ethernet unit sends and receives from a world-wide web’ has me smiling with delight that at the touch of a button I can wing you a message. Warm friendship is such a comfort as winter gathers to plunge us into the long night.’

    1. Yes, I hope never to get over the wonder of that. I don’t know that it will last forever, but maybe for a couple decades longer, if we’re lucky, before the fossil fuel bust really starts to bite.

      Glad to hear you’re getting some mushrooms there, too. It’s been a tremendous mushroom-gathering season here — we’ve been gathering wild maitake mushrooms and adding them to everything, not to mention the usual chicken mushrooms and giant puffballs.

  2. Dave, I like this piece about two solitudes, one winked out. And I especially like the little discovery about touch in the absent millipede rain.

    Autumnal cheer to you, despite all…

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