I poked my head out of the bathroom, glancing left and right, and hitching my backpack up onto my shoulder I slunk out and away from the girls’ lavatory, swiftly tip-toeing down the empty hallway past the columns of lockers and classrooms, the teachers’ good afternoon rituals commencing. Spotting a patroller, I quickly switched into my highly tuned casual/hurried walk, conveying the role of the tardy straggler, and purposely frazzle-like bumbled with my books in my arms and muttered out a “Crap!” and moved right on by with veneering ease. Having had to take an unnecessary turn I backtracked, snaked, and switching to purposeful stride I exited out through the gym entrance and headed out towards the parking lot across the street. I had long realized that the best way to not look suspicious was simple: Don’t look suspicious. So looking as though I belonged I crossed the street, entered the parking lot, then walked right on through the parking lot and stepping over a concrete block I strolled right on into the woods, never having batted an eyelash.
Patches of Heritage Woods littered the stretch from my high school to my house, so it was easy to keep track of the time. All you had to do was take a walk, glance out through the bushes and take a gander at the traffic. If it was empty, there was still time. If it was full, school was getting out and I’d have to wrangle myself through the sticks and leaves and head on home. Simple and effective. Never had a problem with it, unless of course, I’d considered bad grades a problem back then, but I didn’t, so nope, never had a problem with it.
Reaching a bit of a thicket, I swooped my backpack off my shoulder and hung it upon the sharp nooky-jut of a single big oak that I had cut in several months ago, and cracking my knuckles I unzipped the bag and pulled out my bandanna and hat and stuffed in my sweatshirt. After bundling my ratty tresses into my cap, I bent over and rolled my pant-legs and shoved them into my wooly socks, reaching up and taking regular-ol’ scotch tape from my pack and taped up my ankles. I stood up straight, slipped my bandana onto my left bicep, and with a tug cinched the knot tight. It was simply for aesthetic appeal, but I thought it looked rad. I felt like some savage woman, a huntress of the wood, and swinging my arms widely around I hopped up and grabbed a low hanging branch and swung over a stout thistle patch, hollering a “Whoot!” and took off, leaving the leaves and branches springing and my backpack and the grasses swaying in my wake.
It was time to be wild.
“The clearest way to the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” – John Muir
I slept in trees a lot when I was a child and teenager. If you thought people like me didn’t exist – surprise! – we are still here, though now I’m older and not quite so unhampered, so I typically just sleep under them these days. I wasn’t an instinctive tree-buff, I wasn’t a natural climber either. I only got really good at it after my sister continued to outdo me when we were kids, but when she moved on to beer nights, makeup, and punk-rock boys, I kept climbing, and me and the trees began to form something, a special bond, and eventually I came to think of them as friends. I gave them names, made up back stories, and incorporated them into my fantasies. That classic image of some knickerbockered young’un lounging on some thick branch with a thin blade of yellow grass sticking out of their mouth, was me. I wasn’t a country girl exactly; I just liked the woods. I got comfortable there, and I developed my own unique way of hanging out in it. It’s a little strange to say that I wasn’t into camping or outdoor sports, because I hated both of them, mostly because they involved involvement with other people. But alone, free, unbridled out in the forest? Oh yes. I’d ditch a day of schooling, just for a little bit of some dreamy laying-about. I don’t really know if it was laziness; I was just uninterested, though my disinterest definitely made me lazy. Back then I was a tad too occupied with the poetical nature of the grass beneath my feet. The planet was a tiny blue marble spinning and coursing through a void of possibilities, and lounging in the field with a dandelion between my fingers, I had tendency to forget that maybe there was more to life than wondering.
There was a spot in Heritage that I particularly liked; it was further to the back away from the school and closer to the local park, that was about two blocks down and kitty-corner from where I lived. It was this big, caverned type circle of large burnt-umber colored trees that lazed crooked-like, with really thick, craggy bark. I would often sit braced between two of the thick trunks, and run my fingers through all the nooks and crannies, imagining myself and a group of fellow adventurers journeying our way through a labyrinth, on a quest of rescue, or maybe a magic goblet! or whatever thingamabob I thought up. It wasn’t important, as I’d usually backtrack in my head anyway as to what we were all doing. Sometimes I’d just climb around, pretending I was thousands of feet up and thinking about what it’d be like to live in a canopy, like some sort of tree tribe native, and other times I would just read or snooze or flat out sleep. I’ve always been a most prolific Night Owl, so early morning school hours were always hell. One day, when loafing about in a patch of leaves in fall and staring dumbly into a tree trunk, I noticed that in some of the curvy membrane I could see little cracks and splits that resembled letters, and the next day I came back with tracing paper and a stick of black charcoal from the school’s art room and began making prints of different sections of the bark. I did this for a couple months on and off, and then I’d go home and sit on the floor in my room after bullshitting what I’d done at school and decipher any codes or hidden messages that the trees might be holding. This was a good way to help pass the time through months of groundings. I’d also make lists of questions to ask the trees, make bows and arrows out of my coat-hangers and colored pencils, and created several runic alphabets. And I’d bunch all these into my bag, and the next day at school I’d sneak out, slip into the forest brush, and run around like a Robin-Hooded-Nancy-Drewling for a couple hours.
Never was there a problem or worry about taking it back with me. My youth was riddled with secret lives, and if you went around the schoolyard and asked what that girl with the cigarettes, bony nose, frizzy hair, and baggy pants was like, you’d probably have received a slew of answers that seemingly had no relation to one another. Growing up, I discovered that the best way to keep secrets was to simply swathe yourself in rumor and misinformation, and once you decided not to give a damn about your reputation, the gossipers pretty much unwittingly took care of everything for you. The wild child that was me, was safe, never to be known.
“Thank goodness I was never sent to school; it would have rubbed off some of the originality.” – Beatrix Potter
“This is ridiculous!” I shouted angrily with bow drawn, “I don’t have time for this!”
The Elder Willow groaned, it’s limbs creaking as the wind rustled its drooping leaves, and a single root crept forward, extended like a finger, and held itself before me as if to stay my aggravation.
“Such haste you have, but power resides not alone in haste and ambition. You must answer my question, and answer well, or my ground will swallow you beneath.”
“But I told you, Tree. I don’t understand the question!” I snapped.
In a great throaty moan, the Willow sang again, my face grimacing in eye-rolling annoyance.
It’s a challenging thought that brings the storm
A devil may bat an eye
Or take control of the wicked ways.
An unseen villain, choosing his prey
To take the bounty of the land
To give sorrow sown in a bottle neck
Gaping mouth of the forest roots
Sucking green water from its earthy concubine
Spends its day wishing for air
So let it dream a little dream
And pass on its prayer to the sullen ground
Where the devil can watch it grow
The small seedlings scurrying
Scarlet pools of fear slithering along
Beneath the archway the Web of Manhood lies
Melting, may you cry for its insolence
Carrying a star to bloom upon the violet flower
Can you hear the snapping of a bird’s neck?
A shadow appears before the sun
Then a son disappears before the coming of the night
The Mother of the Wood weeps
“What the hell does all that shit mean?!” I bellowed, my bow taut. “That doesn’t even make any sense, it’s not even a question!”
Groaning loudly, the Willow withdrew its rooty finger and croaked, “To think, is to be observant -”
“Oh for the love of – will you just let me through?!”
“The only key, is the answer to my question.”
In pure frustration I abruptly lowered my bow, and gave a deep, slow puff as I gazed at the tree in utter disbelief. Was this tree just a loon? The Elder Willow swayed gently in my new silence, as if to encourage me, and finally giving up my adrenaline rush I dropped my shoulders and sat down on the ground cross-legged, propping my bow against a large, outcropped root. I rubbed my temple, and looked up into the branches.
“Sing it to me again.” I grumbled.
The Willow sang, and ended the song in the same mellon collie tone it had done to the last two. What on earth did all that mumbo-jumbo mean? I searched my thoughts, attempting to string together abstract connections and imagery.
“…A Woodcutter?” I ventured.
A long groan let out, and the Willow breathed, “Twice more.”
“What the – wait, wait. I have a freakin’ GUESS limit?”
“There is no need to guess.”
“Dammit! Sunnuva – !” I let go of the last swear and strewed it into a hissy exhale, pulling my lips back like a chimp before rubbing at my head once more. “Again, please.” I muttered.
The Willow sang its song once again.
“…Is this a trick question?”
When no response came I slumped into thought, trying to figure out how it all connected. Yet, maybe it wasn’t connected. Maybe nothing connected at all, and that was the point. I thought back, going through the disjointed hymn bit by bit, and suddenly straightened up, my brow knitted.
“Can you hear the snapping of a bird’s neck?” I whispered to myself in a questioning manner. I looked around, silently, listening to the woods around me, striving my ears at all the sounds. I looked back up at the Elder Willow, my face contorted in an unsure confusion.
In a mighty moan of relief the Willow stretched, it’s branches raising as it’s core bark bent and morphed into an oval door, the knob cracking and popping out as the Elder Willow gave one last shiver, then fell still and quiet.
“Yes!” I exclaimed, and scrambled to my feet and raced along an arcing root to the door and clasped the doorknob, excitement pumping through me.
“Remember, Wild One, the observant mind, is the pondering mind. The ambitious seeker, does obtain power, but only through the patient seeker, does power become a companion, and not of treasure. Treasure is unmoving, but a companion comes to the aid, of a friend.”
My heart thumped as I stood before the door, a thin strand of vine floating across my back as the wind wafted through. Slowly, steadily, I took a deep breath.
“Thank you.” I said softly. “Thank you.”
Opening the door, I looked back, reminding myself in a still moment, to remember what I had learned, and through the gateway I headed into the future. My future.
Thanks for this piece go to my very old and frazzled disconjointed dairy. You’ve been a good friend.