Some people would it foolish to be tromping through a forest long past sunset, with only a purloined walking stick and a battery-powered flashlight. I call it adventure.
An entry point to the labyrinth of trees was found beside the bamboo grove. Here, the various plantings conspired to pull the fence marking the inhabited boundary lower; here was my way into the darkness. I easily stepped over the defeated guardian, and took several steps forward, eager for adventure… and ran, face-first, into an occupied spiderweb. Several furious head shakes later, I scanned the ground, searching for an acceptable tool to help limit those occurrences. The only thing nearby was the flimsy shell from a bamboo stalk, long since discarded by the growing plant. It would do.
Off into the wilderness I went, occasionally following open patches of ground, but more often than not simply crashing through the brush. The jeans and sneakers I had wore protected me well from everything but the pricker bushes, and those were few enough to be tolerable. I traveled along the perimeter line for a time, until I found myself near the best landmark I would have for some time – large concrete slabs, laid out behind the house for a long-forgotten purpose. From there, I heard the constant chirping and croaking of frogs, and I remembered a small pond that had been discovered when Sonya and I explored the area previously. An image of cattails came to my mind, along with a memory of her stating that she had never actually seen one. My objective was now clear.
Replacing my rather useless bamboo skin for a true stick, I plunged off from the darkness, with only a single glance back at my landmark. This late at night, if anything were to happen to me (or my light), my ability to safely navigate back to the comfort of my house would be greatly diminished. Nevertheless, I pushed past tree limbs and side-stepped overgrown patches, heading toward the sounds of the pond wildlife. As I rounded a bend, I came across a small tree lying across the faint outline of the trail I was following as it sloped downhill gently. I lifted a foot to step over the tree…
And then I fell.
The ground, still saturated with the most recent of storms, slid beneath my sole point of balance and I tumbled sideways. My stick vanished into the night and I felt brambles tear at my clothing and skin, embedding themselves in my arms, hand, and head. As I hit the ground, I heard the distinct clinking of broken shards of glass, and an image of my body laying, bleeding, came unbidden to my mind. After a moment, I picked myself up and brushed away what dirt I could. A single bramble had remained in my scalp, and I removed it gingerly, grimacing at the dirt that was now driven into one of my favorite shirts. All was not lost, though – near my feet was a decent-sized limb, worn by the weather but not completely compromised. Its weakened state made it easy to snap off a true walking stick, one long and sturdy enough to both probe the ground as I traveled and clear the path ahead.
I paused here, looking around. My light had turned off in the fall, and the blackness of the night closed eagerly in around me. A moment of panic gripped me – without light, without landmarks, it would be easy to wander in circles, or to miss my footing with more catastrophic consequences. Part of me longed to turn around, retrace my steps, and retreat to my safe haven. However, the thought of giving up on my goal disgusted me, and I angrily turned away from my reflections and continued on. Another few minutes passed without incident, and then… the woods opened up before me into a clearing. The moonlight that managed to penetrate the green canopy shimmered on the water’s surface, and all in front of me came the sounds of nature. I had found it.
The problem, however, was that there were no cattails in sight. Using my light, I scanned the perimeter of the pond, and saw nothing. Stubborn pride clashed with my mind again, and this time, the latter ran out. Trying to find a plant so relatively small in the dark of night would prove extremely difficult, and I had no guarantee that they even existed. With a wistful sigh, I turned around to head home… and kept turning. Instinctively, I knew I was off course from my entry path, but it felt right, and so I kept going. Before long, I hit a man-made fence, and recognition stirred within me – this was the same route that Sonya and I had taken back from the pond, dredged up from my memory by my subconscious.
The hike back was uneventful. The cats outside seemed surprised to see someone crashing through the brush and clambering onto the front porch, but made no moves to stop me. Ineffective guards or able to recognize their owner; either way, they merely watched as I passed. The cat inside looked up at me as I entered, almost lazily, as if to say “It’s about time you’re back”. Flushed with the exertion of my trip, I stripped off my mud- and sweat-soaked clothes, and sat down to chronicle the events.