Shocked and utterly horrified, I stare across the vast, dying valley. Thoughts of horror and dismay torment my mind, the look of sorrow and desperation flashed across my face. I felt like a husk, as lifeless as the forest I now stand in, what was once a beautiful paradise brimming with life, now a dead, deserted rock. I look across the horizon at the thousands of unfortunate animals, unaware of the great blazes of death heading their way, until it was too late.
Suddenly, I hear a sort of crunching under my feet. “Thank you, merciful God,” I initially thought, certain I had to be treading over some form of life, something, anything other than a lifeless hunk of the terrain. Desperate for some reassurance there was a way to reverse this destruction, I slowly lifted my foot, stared at the sole of my shoe, and saw nothing but the charred remnants of the leaves, blackened from the powerful flame that reduced them to ash, the only reminder of the beautiful, lively paradise that once stood before me.
I take a deep, miserable sigh, but instead of inhaling a breath of fresh air, I began to choke. I choked on the thick, strong smoke that still lingered behind. I choked on the pungent aroma of burning flesh. But perhaps most hazardous of all, I choked on the tears I had been holding back, weakly coughing as I continued to try and hold myself together.
Yet, it was all to no avail.
I collapsed onto the hard, rocky ground that had replaced the fresh, natural soil, unwillingly curled up into a ball, and sobbed intensely. My screams of agony rang out into the sky above me, as my wails of misery could be heard from miles around.
Nearby, I heard steps, at first so faint I’d have to strain my ears to hear them, but gradually got louder and louder, indicating something was walking nearer and nearer. “A deer,” I thought hopefully, despite knowing I was just setting myself up for disappointment.
Although I knew it was no deer, or bear, or any other form of wildlife for that matter, I prayed that perhaps, just maybe, some part of the forest had miraculously managed to remain intact, untouched by the inferno.
Yet, as I heard a voice call out to me from the direction the footsteps emanated, I knew my desires were far too unrealistic to possibly be true. I let out a sickly, depressed moan, my mind, soul, and body aching all over.
Whoever it was raced toward my limp, motionless body, figuring I was injured, but I was far worse off than merely injured, I just witnessed the destruction of my safe haven, felt a fraction of my soul die, never to return.
And for what purpose? A mall.
I truly am certain it was the reasoning that hurt me the most. The merciless, unneeded slaughter of the animals and obliteration of the plants, justified by commercialism. It was undeniably sickening, leaving me in a horrible mixture of disgust and disbelief.
The person heading my way finally reaches me, exhausted and out of breath, clearly having to have run quite a distance to get to my location. The person stares at me intently, obviously concerned. I can hear the brush of their sleeve against their forehead as they wipe the sweat from their brow. In a gruff, deep voice, telling me they must be a man, he asks, “Hey… you okay?”
I remain unresponsive, keeping to myself, wanting to jump to my feet and scream, “Are you insane, or are you just blind to the destruction that surrounds us?,” but I lacked the strength and will to do so.
He walks closer until we’re face to face, and I can now see a sliver of sadness deep within his eyes, as though he is in a great pain.
He stares out into the sky, and following a lengthy, miserable sigh, he mutters, “So I’m not the only one who cares after all.” There is a tone to his voice I cannot quite explain. On one hand, it’s dejected and pitiful, as though he wishes not to reveal his true, gloomy views on this wretched outcome. But on the other hand, it’s defiant, like he’s seconds away from shooting into the air and shouting, “May the forests of Earth live on!”
Gradually, I begin to hear more and more footsteps heading my way. I turn around, personally feeling nothing but indifference, until I see they are all hikers, naturalists, and botanists. They are all different people, united by their love of the forest.
While it still hurts that such a tragedy occurred, it puts my mind at ease to know there are others who still care.