The sound of dead leaves crushed under foot had filled the night with an uncertain background hum. I was oblivious to all sounds, however, my path had deserted me and I was not walking through unknown territory, a carpet of dead leaves spread out before me in ever direction.
It was late fall, the perfect time to walk through the forest. The cool air, the rustling of leaves as they fell, then landed on the ground. At first all sounds hand been vivid to me, the forest was alive and I had been invigorated by it. But it had all changed.
I was now lost and with each moment became even more lost. The day had started good, it is hard to imagine it starting any better than it had, but now things were much different.
The shadows had crept between the leaves, wrapped themselves around the tree trunks and now promised to engulf me. I had a penchant for modern gothic, though my choice in books had proven to be a weakness that afternoon. At first I couldn’t stop turning the pages. It had been a draw that had led me deeper into the afternoon and into early evening. It was also the Achilles heel that had left me stumbling, tripping over hidden roots and stones.
There was a small clearing ahead, one I had never seen before. When I reached it I was out of breath, scared and beginning to loose hope. Home felt so far away the moment that I enter the clearing.
When I came to a stop the sounds that I had been oblivious to during my blind journey through the undiscovered country of my forest world were once again audible. I couldn’t tell you if you had asked me what I would have preferred silence or the sounds that I heard then.
I listened intently. A sound much like the one that I had made myself was there in the background. You could hear it. You just had to hold your breath. My heart beat, and I could hear the blood as it rushed through my veins, though that is of course impossible.
My eyes blurred as I looked up. The sky that had offered me one last glimpse of light as entered the clearing had now switched to a starry night sky. One that offered only a minimal on light. This was enough though. It was enough for me to realize how very dark the forest around me now was. As I stood there in the shadows of what would be a sunny meadow the next morning the thought of entering the forest seemed almost, too much.
I held my breath again. I don’t know if I wanted to wake up safe in my bed, or be reassured that the sounds that I had heard only moments before were gone. Neither of them were realized. I didn’t wake up and the steps that had been there in the background were now moving closer.
Thoughts of wolves or at the very least wild dogs played through my mind. And then the realization slipped into my over active imagination, what if the animal that was following me was human.
My lip hurt were I had bitten it.
I crept to the edge of the clearing, staying between the shadow of the tree and the low light of the meadow.
I held my breath again and waited.
The sound was close. How close I couldn’t say, the crunching of leaves echoed through the trees.
For all of the love that I have for the forest at that moment I wanted nothing more than to be back home. The sound stopped once again, this time it was clear, whatever it was was on the other side of the clearing. And then it emerged.
It was magnificent, broad chested and tall, its row of antlers spread wide, and the condensation of its breath hung in the air.
The buck looked around the clearing before it stepped into full sight. When it felt safe it walked further out and I could see that there were a number of smaller deer behind it. Until it was visible that the entire heard had emerged.
The sight filled me with a small reassurance that I wasn’t alone here at this time and in this place.
I moved, shifting my weight from one foot to the other. Maybe the sound of crunching leaves would have been enough. But the twig that snapped under my foot was an unmistakable signal for the heard. A moment later only the sound of their flight back into the safety of the woods, the cover of shadows was left. And I was once again alone. But though I was alone, I was left with something else.
I stood up, clenched my book with my right-hand, and pushed the branches out of my way with my left. I would find my way home, even if it would take me all night.
Hours later I returned home: cold, hungry, but filled with the satisfaction that I was able to achieve something that had at first felt hopeless.
Of course like any responsible parents they met me with chastising stares and a scolding tone. This was in strong contrast to the frantic embraces that I also received.
I hadn’t intended to spend the night creeping through the forest that surrounded my home but that is life. And it is an experience that taught me a lesson that would maybe one day be valuable. Though that day has yet to come.