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.