One step. Another. Each one echoing and bouncing off the thick wall of trees surrounding me. An icy wind whipped fiercely at my fluffy green jacket, sending tears trickling down my freckled cheeks. I hoisted my heavy pack higher onto my shoulders, my boots planted firmly, the heels digging into the moist clumps of dirt. I couldn’t stop staring, my green eyes fixated on the sloping hills and murky fog before me. So beautiful. Maybe coming to Alaska wasn’t such a bad thing. Maybe Mom dating someone who wasn’t Dad could be a good thing. A new beginning. My sharp ears picked up on the soft gait of a black bear and the faint whistle of a crossbill.
“You’ll love the forests there, Luella. You can go hiking for hours.” Mom would say; her voice a caress, and her gaze warm with something not quite sadness, not quite happiness.
I adjusted my ebony colored beanie with a gloved finger, tucking stray strands of my wispy blond hair back into its confines. A glassy lake spread out widely below me, the uneven ground giving way to a clear pond with small red fish swimming about ecstatically. The sun shone bluntly from behind a cluster of dark clouds, a halo of light surrounding a maze of blackness. I inhaled the deep, clean air, spritzed with the scent of pine needles and fresh earth. I had been wandering through the forest paths since morning and it was now well into the afternoon, my stomach alerting me to my newfound hunger by grumbling loudly. Where was I? Every archway of branches and angular row of foliage looked exactly the same. I slung my backpack laden with supplies onto a dry patch of land, feeling a release of weight on my back. The bag tilted on its side, falling like an unstable tower of blocks. Lowering myself to my knees, I let my body fall limply onto the ground, not unlike a ragdoll. I lay on my back, the grass bending to fit the weight of a human. I raised my chin to the sky and instantly recoiled, feeling a fat drop of rain cascade down my brow line. More followed in suit and I raised the back of my hand to brush the droplets away, leaving freshly wet streaks behind. The rain felt crisp and invigorating and it was just what I needed. Just what I needed to forget the last few years of my life and try to move on. The delicate pattering of the downpour lulled my eyes shut, and I obliged, the exquisite environment around me dimming. I was soaked within the minute, my sticky clothes clinging to my frozen body. Yet, I barely felt a thing, and I casually rolled over, propping myself up on my elbows, overlooking the shallow incline of land. I traced designs in the dirt with my knuckles, absentmindedly. The recurring streams of water washed away my artwork, turning it into a muddy blur. A smear. Once there, and then not. I reluctantly stood up, my muscles aching from the constant hiking. My stray hairs were slicked to the back of my neck, and my backpack lay forgotten in a little puddle. I rubbed my blue hands together for warmth, shivering beneath all my layers. The drizzle was beginning to let up, warm puffs of mist gathering around my shoulders. I trudged down the sloping hill, the ridged soles underneath my boots acting as useful grips. Night was going to fall soon, and I was a lost needle in a haystack. The pond level was rising rapidly, the raindrops penetrating the surface like bullets. I crouched down, resting my elbows on my thighs. I trailed a fingertip through the lake, sludgy sand gathering below the nail. I moved my finger in a slow pattern, leaving a trail of bubbles in my wake. Short stalks of green plants twisted around my one finger, and I barely grazed a cluster of tiny rocks. The tiny rocks reminded me of how cities looked from the view of an airplane. Small, miniscule, but filled with movement that was just so mesmerizing. The rain had gone as quickly as it had come and I decided to gather my things and see if I couldn’t make my way back to the ranger station. But as the sun receded farther and farther under the horizon, my chances sunk with it. I eased myself onto a jagged boulder and dipped the tips of my hiking boots into the chilly water. A wave of drowsiness overcame me, and I suddenly felt the urge to sleep. And just as I closed my eyes, the forest light disappeared as if it had never been there at all.