The Lady and the Woods
It was early morning as she drove to the park. She had a long days hiking planned and her backpack was sitting in readiness on the backseat. Up and up the road curved until finally, the turn-off to the park appeared to her left. The road wound between large trees down into the valley and then up the other side. Reaching the fork for the two parking lots, she headed right, to the smaller, more private lot.
The weather was wonderful and sunlight brightened the clearing under the trees. She looked around, no one was here, she had the whole place to herself. Tucking the car into its usual spot, a bit out of the way, she prepared to set out. Grabbing her backpack of the back seat, she then headed around the car and gently freed her little dog from his harness. Clipping on his leash she lifted him out of his booster seat, locked up the car, and headed towards the woods.
This park was her favorite place to come and her and her little friend were frequent visitors here. She had thought she knew all the trails, but, on her last hike a couple days ago, she had discovered a whole new path. It had been too late in the day to explore it so she had decided to head out early this day to give herself plenty of time.
Following the familiar path, she headed off into the woods. This was her place of comfort and after all that had happened lately, she had needed it often. Her life had been so wonderful, so magical, and she had been so happy. She had accompanied the man she loved far across the ocean and had been prepared to spend the rest of her life with him. When they had been apart, even for brief times, she had counted the minutes until they were together once more.
The fight they had, on that fateful day, had changed all that. She had accepted that at sea he was in charge but had told him that on land they were equals. She had told him she would never leave him as long as he treated her good and with respect. That day, she had awoken to her own feelings. She had no longer felt that he respected her and his words had stirred deep fears inside her. She was not even sure anymore that he really loved her.
It was that day that she realized that she should have been speaking up for herself and her feelings from the very beginning. Not doing so had been a lie of sorts and, being an honest person, this realization had deeply disturbed her. Now, she tried, but the pattern had been established. Seeing no way out and with a heart that was breaking she had booked her flight. Her unhappiness had also started to affect her physically and the heat at her new home had become too much. She missed the coolness of the mountains, it was time to go back.
She had returned to her home in the foothills, a place she deeply loved and had missed more and more. Airing out the cabin she had set about making herself at home once again. There had been days, when she first returned, when she did not know how to go on. She still believed him to be her soulmate and was seriously starting to doubt that she could live without him. Her first thoughts in the morning and her last thoughts before falling asleep were always of him and she missed him all day.
She had tried to get him to see why she had left. She had even offered to meet him halfway, had been willing to compromise. Nothing had worked and she had withdrawn into herself and hidden her grief. On the outside, she was always happy and kept up a brave front, but inside, her heart was breaking. It had been months now and her grief had lessened enough to where she thought she might yet survive. They did still talk on occasions and were both still single but there was no reconciliation in sight.
Hiking in her favorite park with its wonderful trees and the beautiful, peaceful lakes had become her favorite past time and a place of deep solace. She was trying to let go and had no regrets but found it difficult to move forward. She would wander the path and her thoughts would be pulled from the past to the magic of the place around her. Enjoyment of the beauty of these enchanted woods would fill her heart and soul with joy.
They had hiked about an hour when they reached the first of the lakes. Her little dog loved the water and soon her delighted laughter at his antics filled the forest. The sun was shining on the water and the ferns on the forest floor were bathed in bright morning light. The magic of the place filled her with deep peace and joy. Stick after stick zoomed through the air and the little guy raced in circles around her in pure ecstasy.
When they tired of their game, she pulled the towel out of her backpack and dried the little dog. The water was cold and he loved being dried. It soon turned into a game of tug-a-war. Feeling much lighter, she moved on with the little dog at her heels. There was no one out here and she saw no reason to keep him leashed.
Their path wound through magnificent tall trees with rich green ferns growing beneath. Soon they reached the turn-off. She had been hiking these woods for years, funny that she had never seen this path before! It looked new, the rangers must have just cut it. Where did it lead? It was too new to be on any of the maps but usually, the trails ran in a circle so she would just have to follow it and find out. She had been looking forward to this exploration for the last couple days and excitedly set out on this brand new path.
She and the dog hiked on and she was looking around herself eagerly. The trees here were enormous, even taller than the ones on the other paths. This must be leading through some really old-growth forest! The further she got the more untouched it felt, like no one had ever been here before.
She checked her cellphone, but, as she had figured, there was no reception here. Oh well, might as well turn it off! That way the battery would not go dead from the phone trying to find a connection. Getting out her camera, she began to take pictures of the beautiful woods around her. What a find, she had been so lucky to spot that turn-off!
Around noon. the path opened up and before her lay another mountain lake. The little dog eagerly raced forward and was soon happily swimming in the cold, clear water. This seemed like a lovely place for a picnic and soon she was settled on a wide rock sharing her lunch with her small companion. With the little dog curled up beside her, she happily basked in the sun. This was the life!
Her life and its heartbreak all seemed so far away! Sated and happy she moved on. These woods were magnificent! There seemed to be something amazing and new around every turn and she and the dog eagerly moved onward. She knew these woods and the direction they were going would eventually lead to one of the forest roads which would ultimately lead her back to her car.
On and on they went, exploring and loving the sights around them. Forgotten was all except the pure joy of being alive and exploring this wonderful new path. She and the little dog were used to hiking all day so this was barely tiring them. The sun was now lower in the sky and for a moment she considered turning around. She had come too far, it would be dark before she got back to the car if they went back now.
No, her best bet was moving forward and a glance at her map confirmed this, there should be a road not too far now. Shouldering her backpack, they set out once more. The woods around her were changing yet again, they were so beautiful now it felt as if her heart would break just looking at them. All thoughts of turning around or finding the road ahead were forgotten and entranced she and her little companion wandered along the beautiful trail.
It seemed as if something was calling her onward and she no longer cared if it led to that road or not. She had told no one where she was going, no one would miss her for several days and the car was parked in such a way that it was not visible unless you actually drove to the end of the parking lot.
And, what was there to go back to anyhow? An empty house filled with memories of a time she would always cherish, friends she had barely seen since she returned? No, the one main thing that mattered to her right now, her little dog, was with her. Might as well go on and see where this wonderful path would lead!
She kept hiking as the sun sank lower and lower in the sky. It would be dark in a couple of hours and there was still no road in sight. The beauty of the place kept her filled with delight and, almost as if against her will, she kept moving forward. Suddenly, dense fog blocked her way.
She immediately called the dog, it would not do for him to get lost in that thick whiteness. Something inside of her no longer wanted to go forward, maybe she did better turn around. Yes, it would be dark soon but she had a flashlight and batteries and there had been no turn-offs on the path. She should be able to find her way back to the car, even in the dark.
Determinedly she turned around and gasped in horror. Where there had been a bright beautiful path lit by late afternoon sunlight, there was now only dense vegetation! No trace of the path she had followed remained! Panic set her heart racing. What was going on here? What had happened? Where was the path and why had it disappeared?
Frightened she looked around. There, in the direction she had been going, the path was still visible. It was leading straight into the fog. It was as if something wanted her to go forward but would not let her go back. This was too strange! She was deeply afraid now. It seemed there was no option but to move forward into that thick, white, and a little scary whiteness!
Resolutely she picked up her little dog and clutching him to her, she moved forward into the unknown. What powers were at play here, she did not know. Her whole life she had felt protected and she felt this way, even now. Deep down she knew she would be ok. She trusted this feeling.
The whiteness closed around her and she could barely make out the path. Gingerly, she moved forward and long minutes passed as she moved through the eerily silent fog. At least, it did not seem to be getting much darker. On and on she walked, the wetness of the air surrounding her, clinging to her clothes and hair.
The little dog was getting rather heavy, he did not weigh that much but carrying him for this long seemed to have multiplied his weight. Shifting him to carry him more comfortably, she continued to move on. She could not bear the thought of putting him down, he was the one familiar thing in this sea of whiteness.
There, was it getting lighter ahead? It was still a way ahead but it sure seemed like it! But, how could this be? It should be almost dark now and that light was getting brighter and brighter the closer she got. It almost appeared as bright as the noonday sun now! Her steps slowed and she approached the brilliant light with caution. There was fog and then there was light, almost like a wall separated the two! Steeling herself and holding the dog tightly to her chest she stepped into the bright light.
At first, she was totally blinded by the sudden brilliance. As her eyes adjusted she began to see. She was in a bright sunlit clearing all set up for a picnic with tables and even a small tent! To her surprise, her friends and family were here and came eagerly forward to greet her. They were so happy to see her and were surrounding her and hugging her. They excitedly pulled her forward towards the tables asking her all the time where she had been.
Her little dog was ecstatic and struggling to get down. She turned him loose and he ran excitedly through the clearing greeting one after another of his people. She was so happy to see them all and kept hugging them out of pure delight to be back amongst them once more.
Suddenly, the crowd parted and there he was. She had seen him in her dreams, had seen him for the first time on that terrible day she had left the islands. She had felt him around her, giving her the courage to go on. She had felt his arms around her at night keeping her warm, and he had haunted her very dreams.
She recognized him instantly even so she had never clearly seen his face. Rooted to the spot she just stood staring at him. To her surprise, her little dog raced forward and greeted him like a long-lost friend. He usually only greeted her and her little niece that way! How could he know this man she had never seen before?
As he got up from petting the dog, their eyes met. It was as if their souls connected, pulling them together. She felt like she had known him all her life. The magnetism was like nothing she had ever felt before! He opened his arms and she stepped into his embrace with a shout of pure joy.
She had finally come home!
© GC Sinclaire 2015 (Excerpt from GC Sinclaire: Short Stories)