Forgotten by Spiritual Echo
Non-Fiction contest entry
The trail begins just steps from my cottage. From the road it is hidden by cedars that at some time must have been planted by human hands; they are not indigenous to this part of the country. But, no one would notice. The frayed fronds blend into the forest; shades of green belie the truth that lies beyond the gateway.
From the moment I disappear behind the branches, I am totally alone, completely aware that should I falter on this path, my body will not be discovered. In the twenty years I have lived here on Sydney Island, I have never walked this trail with anyone. It is my private and selfish indulgence, my secret path to enlightenment. My children spent summers here, guzzling gas, bringing their need for entertainment north, skiing across the lake, playing card games late into the night. But not one of my precious boys touched the earth and felt her sigh.
In the early days, perhaps I too was lost in the pedestrian commute, juggling my cosmopolitan city reality with a slice of real estate in cottage country. We would arrive every Friday with coolers stocked with delicacies purchased at a gourmet delicatessen, impressive snacks, our attempt to make the experience more palatable to our endless stream of weekend guests.
Occasionally, the truth of our northern address imposed on our social plans. We had an infestation of mice, then bats and porcupines, who found the resin treatment on the pine exterior tasty. We killed them .The mice were eradicated with traps, laced with peanut butter that snapped and broke their necks. The bats were forced out of the attic with carbon monoxide, a hose attached to the back of a Ford pick-up. The porcupines took a bullet, a merciful death from a 22 calibre rifle.
We continued our pretentious squatting on a piece of property we thought belonged to us.
The cottage evolved. It was no longer a shelter, it became a palace. Every attempt to tame the encroaching wilderness was thwarted and we took it personally. The rabbits that destroyed my garden were deemed to be pests. The garter snake that had taken refuge beneath the boat house was an ugly threat. I wanted them dead and gone.
Part of my wish came true. My son grew up and found urban life more interesting than the same old, same old, commune with nature. And, one night, in the early morning, my husband woke up, instructed me how to call for an ambulance and then died in my arms. I scattered his ashes around the cottage and blasted Harry Chapin's song "All My Life's a Circle" before preparing eggs for the guests, the witnesses to his reunion with earth.
I watched sunsets from the dock, alone.
My loneliness and loss intimidated our friends and they respected my suffering by leaving me alone.
It was during this isolation that I surrendered to the world I tried to dominate.
I found the path, perhaps travelled by many, but mine and mine alone when I slipped behind the cedars.
Inside this cocoon I had no title, no prestige nor any presence aside from the air that I swallowed, consumed to sustain life. I was as much a backdrop to the earth as the gnarled oak whose roots twisted and braided across the path. I always paused, sitting on a stump, wondering if this was one of the oak tree's broken acorns and paid tribute to a life form I could never understand. That mighty oak had grown and flourished in silence. Its seed had germinated before my birth and it would survive me, mock me long after my death. Sometimes, every time, I trudged down this path, I would stop and hug the tree, wishing its strength would somehow defy logic and infuse me with courage.
I could tell from broken branches and hollowed gullies that this path wasn't sacred. It was part of a snowmobile trail in the winter, but for me it was a refuge. The path was like a map, guiding me to the next level. There was a lilac bush, white, without scent, but possibly a prized horticultural phenomenon in someone's backyard. Someone had lived here, walked here, before me. There was a grove of pussy willows, yet no matter how hard I tried to time my hikes, inevitably by the time I stumbled upon them they were dusted in yellow pollen.
Just before the trail ends, there's a spot, a copse of balsam trees, their fragile branches dance in the wind and whisper to travellers. I hear, but I don't understand.
Chipmunks shadow me, chattering, anticipating the nuts I have stashed in my pocket. How do they remember, I wonder? I don't lose myself often, in the forest.
I glance at the tree tops, the pines and maples and wonder if an ash is sheltered in the boughs, a piece of my husband's heart. I move on, reluctantly, one step at a time and mourn the oak tree, my old friend.
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