The Forest

Post date: Jan 17, 2020 9:12:16 PM

By: Katherine Alder, Staff Writer

Posted January 17th, 2020

The late afternoon sun was warm against the unkempt green grass and the old worn wooden picnic tables; its golden light washed over the landscape. The tables’ once perfect, red-brown surface flaked away and under the paint, the wood was grey with age. Vandalized with couples names, I was here, and doodles left in multi colored sharpies, the authors’ long forgotten messages, bore the passage of time, permanent reminders of people. A heart bearing Sebastian Devereaux’s initials was permanently gouged into the side of the table’s bench with the sharp, biting, edge of the knife he carried. Today he had no reason to stop,walking past the table, leaving it with the memories. The ghost of the two that used to sit there. They left their fleeting imprint after every picnic they took on their hikes through the forest.

The opening of the trail was half hidden by the long reaching arms on the trees, almost invisible to the casual observer. But Sebastian’s feet found the familiar dirt path, he ducked under the branches, laden with vines snaking their way around the trees keeping a stranglehold on their hosts. A smattering of plants grew up around the base of the trees under the feet of their taller compatriots, like a child chasing after their older siblings. They longed for the sunlight accepting whatever drifted down between the leaves. Mayapples and wood violets encroached upon the path reclaiming it. Bunches wildflowers grew in the spotlight formed by the gaps in the treetops. Sebastian picked a few idly as he passed, collecting a bouquet, a brilliant contrast against his otherwise dark outfit. He used to give the flowers to Paris when they walked together.

He passed a fallen tree. Its once glorious trunk had fallen victim to rot and decay; its massive roots torn up when its branches kissed the dirt. It housed countless insects, and mice nested beneath its bulk. A red squirrel paused on the trunk an acorn in its mouth, puffing its cheeks; its silly expression contrasted the elegance of its bushy tail. When it saw Sebastian walk past it chattered angrily darting along the length of the tree. It raced for another trunk scrambling up it, and climbing towards the blue sky. In another second it was gone escaping the human intrusion on an otherwise calm summer day. It would soon begin collecting acorns stashing them away before the harsh winter, the months through which it longed for the ease of summer.

He came across a short scraggly blackberry bush filled with tiny, purple, berries, many had been pecked apart, fallen victim to the birds overhead, flying free on the summer breeze. They left a red-purple blood stain in their place. Numerous birds lived in the forest, nesting in the abundant trees. Three sandhill cranes, hunted grasshoppers in the distance teaching their young. They perambulated around the forest bobbing their heads to the ground when they found their food. They had little to fear from their surroundings, but they remained vigilant ready to fly if threatened. The path turned before Sebastian could have gotten close to them, not that he wanted to. He kept walking following the meandering trail.

He spent many days and many summers in recent years here, he and Paris made it their goal to hike every trail in the park, but this was their favorite. They had come here so often that Sebastian knew every tree and rock. Everywhere he walked reminded him of the past. The past that only existed in photographs. At the last turn before the bridge, he saw the old split stump. Paris used to climb on it, to be taller than Sebastian. Now it was inhabited by a spider, its extensive web spanned the gap of the split. An unsuspecting insect had its flight arrested by a death trap of spider silk. Sebastian moved on reaching his destination, an old wooden bridge hidden by trees, it was where he had proposed to Paris, whom he never married because a simple car accident, killed the love of his life.

Sebastian walked hand in hand with Paris over the familiar trail, he resisted the urge to check if the ring box was still in his jacket pocket. He planned on proposing on the bridge where they first kissed. The bridge spanned a rift in the ground, the water would drain down the path trickling over the rocks when it rained. Plants thrived all around the bridge. Taller trees obscured parts of the bridge from view, the central one had a gaping hole revealing a hollow in the trunk. The leaves of the trees cast irregular shadows across the boards, though the wood was natural, unstained, and old, none of the grey brown boards had been claimed by creeping rot. The floor of the bridge was solid with the most infinitesimal gaps between boards. The couple walked out to the middle of the bridge and leaned against the railing conversing quietly, studying the landscape. Before they moved on Sebastian, pulled the ring out of his pocket, got on one knee, and proposed.

Sebastian smiled sadly at the memory walking out to the center of the bridge, a few leaves were scattered across the surface of the bridge, still green, as they had recently fallen from the trees above. He looked out over the thriving plants, the trees all stretching their arms towards the sky, with saplings scattered all around at their feet, all yearning for the sun, many would lose the competition for resources, but the survivors would grow up stronger. Chlorophyll green filled every gap as plants spread across the landscape. It was the first time in almost a year that Sebastian had visited the trail, after Paris had died he didn’t want the reminders the place carried. After a while he left the bouquet he’d picked earlier and moved on, walking away.